Vivaldi's Virgins
by Barbara Quick

Friday, October 26, 2007


In the early eighteenth century, Venice was a bustling, exotic city-state, thriving with trade and art, with no less than four public institutions for the housing and upkeep of the city’s less favored population. The Ospdale della Pietà, an orphanage of sorts for foundling and unwanted children, is the setting, then, for Barbara Quick’s Vivaldi’s Virgins. Anna Maria dal Violin—orphans are given a last name according to their instrument of skill—is plucked from the commun at an early age to join the figlie di coro, an elite group of performers under the direction of maestro Antonio Vivaldi, nicknamed the “Red Priest” for the color of his hair and the vocation he neglects in favor of composing. The virgins in question are his all-female musicians, cloistered within the Pietà’s walls, obscured from public view even when performing.


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