by Barbara Quick
The Ospedale della Pieta is the Venetian dumping ground for orphans. A mother can bring her baby to a special niche in the Church of the Pieta and leave it behind, confident that the child will be fed and give opportunities beyond her parents’ ability to provide. Abandoned boys are taught a trade before being sent into the world, while young girls are allowed to join the music school, and the talented, fortunate ones study under music maestros like Antonio Vivaldi. Anna Maria dal Violin is one such musical virtuoso; her skill with a violin is so great that Vivaldi writes custom pieces just for her. But music alone cannot make her happy; Anna Maria pines for her mother. She writes her letters, which her teacher Sister Laura promises are delivered, but they go unanswered. So Anna Maria, determined to find out who she is – Courtesan’s daughter? Bastard to a noble? Humble daughter of a tailor? - snoops and sneaks through the high and low society of Venice in an effort to uncover her mother’s identity.
The world of the Pieta is one of great secrecy. To the outside world they appear to be pure, innocent virgins living a sheltered life of chastity and musical brilliance. But behind the doors of the convent, the girls scheme to attend forbidden operas and have secret liaisons with lovers. As Anna Maria’s friends are married off and she is left behind, her search for her mother intensifies. The story is not told in chronological order, and it can be confusing as it jumps around in Anna Maria’s life. She is always the narrator, and usually she speaks directly to the reader, but other times it is through the letters written to her mother that events unfold. But Vivaldi’s Virgins is a quick read, with enough action and romance that the plot keeps rolling along without slowing to a crawl or speeding up into overtime and leaving the reader behind.
There are many famous faces in the Venetian nobility and popular composers who worked with the Pieta. So if you like historical cameos to help bring context to a novel, Antonio Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, and George Handel all show up. Anna Maria was a real musician, as well, and a master of many instruments, not just her precious violin.
I read another book earlier this year, also about a young woman in the Pieta: The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker. Like Laker’s novel, the plot is somewhat predictable and ties up far too neatly, but Vivaldi’s Virgins is told with musical, rich language and characters you can actually care about, so it is by far the superior novel. Check it out.
To read more about Vivaldi’s Virgins, buy it or add it to your wishlist, click here.