Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Queen's Soprano

I came across this book by happenstance when searching period books on the library website. Since it had Queen in the title, I figured why not try it out. Overall, I am not sure if I would recommend it but it was an interesting read. It follows Angelica Voglia (true story) and her family in the 1600's in Rome. During this time, the pope had forbidden that women could sing in public. If they wanted to, they had to enter a convent. He thought it was not proper as it stirred men to odd behaviors, or to do things they could not control. He blamed the woman, obviously (smirk). In parts of Rome there was one who defied the pope, Queen Christina. She ruled over parts of Rome, and openly encouraged women to enter her court and sing. Angelica often thought longingly of going to court to sing, because she was reduced to singing at home behind closed shutters.

Her mother was very ambitious for her, and worked tirelessly to marry her off to a wealthy nobleman. Soon her singing spreads through the city and many praise her talents, while others including the pope call her voice the devil's breath. She is invited to sing at Queen Christina's court, and is there praised even more. Soon many suitors line their door to court her, and her mother is beside herself with joy. Angelica has glimpsed a Frenchman out her window who works nearby, and has fallen in love with him by face. A maid that works for the family, Bianca, agrees to deliver notes to him. They begin a correspondence, and he often sits under her window to listen to her sing. Soon she can think of no one else but him, Theodon. Bianca brings her drawings and notes from him and she pines after him while being forced to entertain different suitors. Most are old, overweight and unsavory in different ways. Her mother only sees the dollar signs. While her mother is busy arranging her marriage to the Duke of Mantua, Angelica seeks to find a way out of her predicament.

Soon rumors spread that she is in love with a Frenchman, a poor artist, and her mother is very upset at her. Soon the whole town is discussing her and this Frenchman and her reputation seems to be ruined. Her mother, along with Father Zachary; a family friend, decide to send her to a convent for awhile until things settled down. While there she learned that Theodon had left, and she worried for him. She also discovered that Father Zachary was her real father; when her mother was in a convent they had had her, and then her mother met her father. Angelica now knew why Father Zachary always seemed so anxious to help promote her voice, and seemed to pay for everything as well. Now it all made sense. Her mother came to retrieve her and her sister from the convent, telling them he had passed away. Angelica quietly mourned him, because her other siblings did not seem to know.

As preparations continued for her wedding, she decided that in order to have a chance with Theodon she must find a way out. She decides to enter Queen Christina's court as a singer, and leaves her family behind. The Count takes his anger out on her family and cuts off her brother's ear and takes her dowry money. Her mother is furious and won't speak to her. While she lives at court and tries to get used to her new life, she often sends her family letters hoping they will visit her. As time passes at court, she becomes the queen's main soprano and confidante. The pope works tirelessly to change the Queen's ways, and reprimands her for her ways. Theodon returns from the battle in the French quarter, and comes to court her. He is much changed from months of illness and fatigue. She finds herself not as happy with him as she had hoped. Soon the pope's army is ready to attack the queen's, and many of her court flee to save themselves. While things come to a head, several events happen all in a short space of time.

Angelica's mother finally comes to visit her, but only to bring a cardinal there to seduce her and ruin her reputation. While recovering from the abuse, which she had been saved at the last moment, the Queen is also dying as the pope's army lies in wait. Theodon decides to marry someone else, impatient to keep waiting for Angelica. As her life seems to tear apart, she tries to decide what to do once again. A mother who had betrayed her, jealous of her life at court, and angry at her decisions. She can't talk to her family, Theodon has left her, and soon the Queen will be gone leaving the Queen's singers open for attack by the pope. Once again, she finds a way to escape at the last moment. Upon the Queen's death bed, she seems to make amends with the pope as he gives her last rites. She decides to send Angelica to a convent, deeming it best to keep her safe that way. The pope was convinced the attack on her was because her voice had driven men mad. Crazy.

Through friends at court, Angelica travels heavily veiled to Madrid. To escape the pope and his convent, she was no longer safe in Rome. Too many people knew of her disgrace, and her voice. She had to leave. Angelica served the duchess and her children at the Spanish ambassador's palace, and before leaving she tried to see her family one last time. Her mother recognized her but would not see her or apologize. Many said she had gone mad. The story ends there, and I was a little at a loss to find a happy ending to the story. Her life seemed so full of promise, to be taken advantage of by her own mother, and then having to flee the pope on the death of a true friend, the Queen. It is amazing to me how ignorant the pope was and how everything was blamed on women. I don't know how her story ends, of if it is happy. The author might have put an epilogue in there to make me feel better. Most of the story is true according to the author. I don't recommend just because it seemed to end abruptly for me. Maybe there will be another book to follow it. Overall, interesting read, but not quite provoking enough for me.

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