The dazzling city on the lagoon is sailing toward the ruin of her maritime empire, determined to go down in a maelstrom of pleasure, music, and masquerade.
Venice, 1731. Opera is the popular entertainment of the day and the castrati are its reigning divas. Tito Amato, mutilated as a boy to preserve his enchanting soprano voice, returns to the city of his birth with his friend Felice, a castrato whose voice has failed.
Disaster strikes Tito's opera premier when the singer loses one beloved friend to poison and another to unjust accusation and arrest. Alarmed that the merchant-aristocrat who owns the theater is pressing the authorities to close the case, Tito races the executioner to find the real killer. The possible suspects could people the cast of one of his operas: a libertine nobleman and his spurned wife, a jealous soprano, an ambitious composer, and a patrician family bent on the theater's ruin.
With carnival gaiety swirling around him and rousing Venetian passions to an ominous crescendo, Tito finds that the most astonishing secrets lurk behind the masks of his own family and friends.
Myers's absorbing first novel, a historical set in 18th-century Italy, introduces a most unusual hero, Tito Amato, who was sold as a child to be castrated and taught to be an opera singer. In late 1731, Tito and fellow castrato Felice Ravello leave Naples for Tito's native Venice to sing with an opera company owned by a wealthy and powerful family. Myers recreates the opera seria of the time in fascinating detail, from the special stage effects to the vocal pyrotechnics. All Venetians attended the opera and sang the principal arias as popular songs; the narrative was less important and came primarily in spoken recitatifs. During one performance, the prima donna is poisoned, and Felice, who's been working as an instrumentalist since his voice became unstable, is jailed as the chief suspect. Tito is determined to clear his friend and scours the Republic of Venice for evidence of his innocence. Readers familiar with Venice will delight in following Tito through the calli and campi where masked revelers celebrate the Carnivale. (One patrician lady uses a seduction technique that might be useful today.) The complicated plot has twists enough for a 19th-century opera, but Myers neatly ties all the pieces together by the end.
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Poisoned Pen Press
October 14, 2005
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