Venice, 1745 and the buzz on the streets and canals is all about opera; glorious voices, bravura orchestras, librettos of passion, political intrigue, with murder and suicide common occurrences – the big “O” has it all.
The place to be for upwardly mobile Venetians, the city’s opera houses vie with each other for their patronage.
Every production, bigger and better than the previous, it’s an expensive business. If an opera company fails to get bottoms on seats then the odds are they will founder, sinking into oblivion amid the charcoal grey waters that ebb and flow through the canals of Venice.
The setting for Beverle Graves Myers latest Tito Amato mystery novel, Whispers Of Vivaldi, is the Teatro San Marco, eighteenth century Venice’s premier opera house. Singers and musicians lured away by a rival company, Teatro San Marco is failing, the Director needs a hit and he needs it fast, if the rising tide of bankruptcy is to recede.
Maestro Torani, San Marco’s Director, is persuaded by Tito Amato, a Castrato singer who no longer performs, to resurrect the company’s fortunes by the staging of a new production, ‘The False Duke’ by a hitherto unknown young Venetian violinist.
The score is beautiful, the orchestrations redolent of a favourite of Venetian opera lovers: the late Antonio Vivaldi.
Torani, a friend and mentor to Tito Amato agrees, and after obtaining permission to mount the opera from the Savio alla Cultura, an official who collects a percentage of the ticket sales for the state’s coffers, Tito goes to Milan to engage the services of a popular Castrato, Angeletto as lead singer for the new production.
A castrato is a male singer who before puberty was castrated in order to retain a soprano or alto voice. The popularity of castrati singers waned after the 1850’s and the extremely unpleasant practice of maiming young boys stopped. Today’s equivalent to operatic castrati singers are counter tenors (delightful to hear) who sing with natural ability.
There’s a problem: Angeletto accepts the role but is ‘he’ really a ‘she’? Rumour hath it that Angeletto is a woman; a soprano who, enticed by a large pay packet, is masquerading as a male castrato.
Beverle Graves Myers has created an intriguing, amusing and really engaging narrator in Tito Amato. Whispers Of Vivaldi is the sixth in the Tito Amato series, I haven’t read the others but it didn’t matter; I felt as if I had alighted from a gondola in eighteenth century Venice and with Tito by my side was walking along the cobbled walkways, the air flavoured by gossip, innuendo, political grandstanding and the brackish aroma of the City’s waterways.
To add to Tito’s problems the general concensus of opinion regarding The False Duke’s score is that it owes a lot more to Vivaldi than has been acknowledged. The public outcry which develops around Angelleto’s gender and the truth about the composer of the new production, set to spiral out of control, Maestro Torani is cruelly attacked and murdered.
Tito, shocked by the death of his friend, falls under the scrutiny of the Police Chief, “Messer Grande”. The prime suspect, Tito’s own life is in danger as in an exciting conclusion, he fights to uncover Maestro Torani’s murderer and in so doing save the fortunes of the Teatro San Marco.
You don’t have be an opera buff to enjoy Whispers Of Vivaldi, Beverl Graves Myers’ skilful writing translates to an enjoyable, easily understandable mystery about the machinations of opera houses, patrons and performers in eighteenth century Venice.
Take a magical mystery trip along Venice’s historical waterways with Tito Amato as tour leader – it’s a lot of fun.
Janet Walker, Features Correspondent Victoria, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014