Vivaldi’s Muse

Written by Sarah Bruce Kelly
Review by Steve Donoghue

The story of Annina Giro, virtuous and strong-willed young heroine of Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse, begins in 1719 in Mantua, where her father, a prosperous wigmaker, has regular business dealings with the city’s red-haired and fiery-tempered Venetian maestro, Antonio Vivaldi. The two strike up a friendship and a working relationship, and the novel spans the twenty years during which Annina accompanied the musician from one city to another, one musical posting to the next, and most especially, one artistic creation to the next. As Vivaldi helps develop Annina’s burgeoning singing talents, and the genesis of all his major works—both orchestral and operatic—are narrated in vivid and exacting detail, from the haggling over prices with a string of obdurate theater managers to the sometimes ineffable glories of the compositions themselves. Along the way, readers meet a much larger cast of characters, from all the members of Annina’s family to the highly demanding women of Vivaldi’s artistic world. One of the most pleasing aspects of Kelly’s expertly handled narrative is the subtle but steady way she has virtually everybody in the book gradually come to rely on Annina’s warmth, spirit, and good sense. The story of Annina and the maestro plays out against the backdrop of a wonderfully drawn 18th-century Venice, and the novel’s gentle conclusion will leave readers smiling. Highly recommended.