“I Just Finished” THE FOUR SEASONS by Laurel Corona and was swept away by this coming of age story about two sisters. Normally, a coming of age story is always the kind of book I would pick up and be fairly sure I would like, but this one I wondered about in that it is set in 18th
Century Venice. This rich, historical fiction however, did not disappoint. Filled with all that the fabulous city of Venice is today, it was even more magnificent I believe back then, as the story of two very different sisters unfolds.
In Venice in 1695, two baby sisters are abandoned on the steps of the foundling hospital known as the Pieta. Here they are taken in and branded on the heels of their tiny feet with the “P” that stands for “Pieta” and the reader comes to know them as Maddalena and Chiaretta. The two sisters grow up in this orphanage that is run by the church in order to teach girls to be singers or musicians. The nobility of Venice is served with extravagant concerts of religious music by these orphans who are trained to perform for the privileged citizens of Venice.
Thus, Chiaretta and Maddalena grow up but are as different as two sisters can be. As the girls are taught in the Pieta, Chiaretta shows the possibility of being a superb soprano and does indeed mature into an incredible singer and illustrious soloist. However, Chiaretta, who is willful and impetuous, longs to marry a nobleman and escape the confines of the Pieta. Maddalena, the eldest, meanwhile, is quiet and loyal as she grows and works with several instruments before she comes to love the violin the most.
She takes up the instrument with dedication and makes it her life’s work but along the way, begins a dangerous relationship with her violin teacher.
Chiaretta attains her goal and marries into one of the most famous titled families in Venice. Her husband is none other than Claudio Morosini, the dashing and handsome Venetian whose family is part of the most influential in the empire. The Pieta plays its part in arranging a marriage for Chiaretta and Claudio, but she soon learns that everything comes at a cost. As a wife, she must give up certain ideals as she puts up with a husband who keeps company with courtesans and eventually brings Chiaretta to consider taking a lover for herself. Chiaretta, now a powerful woman in Venice, learns to look the other way at the infidelities of her husband, Claudio, and lives though it all but always with concern on how all this will affect her close relationship with Maddalena. For even thought these are very different lives, these are still very faithful and devoted sisters.
Meanwhile, Maddalena’s studies include more than the violin as she takes up with the teacher, Vivaldi. Antonio Vivaldi is a somewhat notorious priest and also is suspected of taking up with many women. With his wild red hair, Vivaldi is known as “the Red Priest” and when he enters Maddalena’s life, it changes everything for her. From then on, her life is one of constant bewilderment and danger, highs and lows, some happiness but much sorrow. Vivaldi who is paid to develop music for the choir and orchestra at Pieta, discovers in Maddalena a muse. Her skillful playing of the violin coupled with her keen ear and imagination, draws him to her and even though he is often ill and shabby looking, she is drawn to him. When Vivaldi leaves to work elsewhere traveling to different cities, Maddalena stays behind and works her way up in the musical standing at Pieta, with great hopes that the “Red Priest” will sometime return and come to his senses and realize how important Maddalena is to him and profess his love for her. While Chiaretta takes pleasure in her bustling, public life, Maddalena keeps to herself and eventually begins to counsel younger girls and fulfill her motherly instincts that way.
These sisters’ lives of such disparity are filled with sharps contrasts. While Chiaretta shares news and views of the life of luxury she lives with art, jewels and richly made clothing, Maddalena compliments her as she exhibits the unadorned, quiet life of the Pieta. While history shows that Vivaldi did indeed purchase a violin bow for a young student at the Pieta, the rest of this luxurious story of two very different but always loving, loyal sisters’ lives and loves is but fiction. But it is the comparison of these two amazing women and their stark contrasts that makes this story a black and white, hot and cold, extremely rewarding and entrancing story.
What happens to these two devoted sisters and their very different lives will keep the light on as you can’t stop page turning until you find out what happens to them both. Fans of historical fiction, sibling loyalty, and coming of age romances will enjoy this book a great deal.
Submitted to Ijustfinished.com by Karen Haney, December, 2008