HIDDEN VOICES: The Orphan Musicians of Venice
Candlewick. May 2009. Tr $17.99
Gr 8 Up - 352p.
It is a longing and search for love that motivates three girls living in the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage renowned for its extraordinary musical program. But for Rosalba, Anetta, and Luisa, the love they seek is not where they expect to find it. Set in the early 1700s in the heart of Venice, this remarkable novel deftly weaves the history of Antonio Vivaldi’s early musical career into the lives of three young women who excel in voice and instrument. Under the composer’s tutelage and care, the orphans find expression, sustenance, and passion. But can the sheltered life of the orphanage prepare them for the unthinkable dangers outside its walls?
Three girls train under Vivaldi at an esteemed orphanage for the musically gifted, each seeking love outside its strict classes and conventions. Impetuous Rosalba constructs romantic fantasies about a local apprentice; star soprano Luisa pines for her distant mother; studious Anetta hounds Luisa for any scrap of affection. Alternating chapters of first-person narration place readers inside the lively ospedale, full of chortling instruments and giggling girls. Collins creates an engrossing work of historical fiction that allows apt teen readers to absorb bustling 18th-century Venice, musical terminology and even bits of Italian. The girls' dissonant voices-quite different from one another, making this substantial novel manageable-intense friendships and ardent (sometimes shattering) pursuits of love endow the story with enduring intrigue. Fatherly Vivaldi, a ruddy, spirited and sympathetic composer approaching greatness, binds the girls and the story together. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
The quest for love and belonging motivates the three teens who tell this engrossing story set in the early 1700s in Venice at the Ospedale dell Pieta, an orphanage and home for abandoned girls. Marriage or a life in the church is the only future that these girls can hope for. Antonio Vivaldi, a character in this fictional account, wrote much of his music at the Ospedale and was responsible for teaching music to a select segment of the girls. Each chapter is told by Anetta, Luisa, or Rosalba, all well-drawn and believable characters. They all seek love in different ways. Despite their disadvantaged backgrounds, they show great inner strength. Luisa has a magnificent voice, which could attract a fine prospect for marriage, but she hopes her talent will snare the attention and affection of her mother, who abandoned her. Rosalba is an incurable romantic who refuses to be confined by the walls of the Ospedale and takes great risks in her pursuit. Anetta nurtures the younger girls at the institution and is intensely devoted to Rosalba and especially to Luisa. Near the end of the book there is a hint that Anetta’s attraction to Luisa may be romantic. Collins’s descriptive prose makes Venice and a unique slice of history come alive as the three connecting narrative strains create a rich story of friendship and self-realization. – School Library Journal. Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Three young musically talented women come of age in Venice during the 1700s and learn that their sheltered and privileged lives as orphans under the tutelage of a young and talented Antonio Vivaldi cannot prepare them for the challenges and dangers beyond the institution walls. Anetta, controlling and spiritual, loves and cares for the babies abandoned at the orphanage's door and feels it is also her duty to pressure her close friends, Rosalba and Luisa, to follow the school's rules. Eventually she decides that her love for women will not allow her to marry, and she chooses a single life in the orphanage. Rosalba, the most rebellious, yearns for romance, runs away to flirt with a young man beyond the walls, suffers rape and abandonment, leaves her own baby with the orphanage, and begins a successful musical career with the help of the forgiving Vivaldi. Luisa, who looks and sounds like an angel, overcomes sickness and a broken-hearted love affair to become the opera star that her courtesan mother hoped for. Like Marie, Dancing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005/VOYA December 2005) and Dante's Daughter (Front Street, 2003/VOYA April 2004), the story addresses the limited choices of talented women from another time, but it also provides a wonderful backdrop for universal struggles with which modern young women will identify. The three distinct and believable voices weave their stories into a statement of love and loyalty. They learn from mistakes, move forward, and accept that their talent does not guarantee happiness.
– VOYA. Lucy Schall
Vivaldi composes music and conducts concerts performed by girls at the Ospedale della Pietà, an early eighteenth-century Venetian orphanage that features rigorous musical training. Changing narrators chapter by chapter, the absorbing story is told by three of the young musicians, 15-year-olds Anetta and Rosalba, and Luisa, who is nearly 14 when the novel begins. Early in the story, Anetta dotes on Luisa, who bridles at her friend’s over-attentive manner, while both feel concern for high-spirited Rosalba, who neglects her duties and longs for romance. Each girl undergoes changes through the course of the novel: Anetta channels her feelings for Luisa into other directions; Luisa endures a near-fatal illness and enjoys a brief love affair; and Rosalba grows up quickly after a rape makes it impossible for her to return to the orphanage. With its unique setting, vivid musical themes, and sharply realized characters, this historical novel is well worth reading. (Grades 8-10.) – Booklist. Carolyn Phelan
Anetta, Rosalba, and Luisa, raised at the Ospedale della Pietà, aren't your stereotypical literary orphans. Cloistered away from the bustle and spectacle of eighteenth-century Venice, the friends lead privileged but sheltered lives as students in the Ospedale's demanding music program, with Antonio Vivaldi himself as their teacher. But as the three grow into adulthood and begin to encounter the outside world, they also grow apart. Fretful, kind Anetta fixates on rules and obsessively devotes herself to her friends (Luisa especially) and nursery charges; impetuous Rosalba chafes at the "staid and regulated life we lead within two cold, damp buildings" and plots a romance with a young man she has only ever seen at a distance; and Luisa, whose courtesan mother still makes perfunctory visits, exists at a remove, stirred by music alone. The historical setting, impressively detailed, is richly exotic, yet the emotional landscape will be quite familiar, particularly Rosalba's sense of entrapment and Luisa and Anetta's painfully imbalanced friendship. Though the languid pace and sprawling plot may limit the audience for Hidden Voices, readers who persevere will be rewarded with an expert delineation of the subtle psychological damages inflicted by such a cold, albeit lavish, existence-set against a well-researched evocation or a vibrant period of musical history. An author's note addresses the history behind the story.
– Hornbook, Claire E. Gross