I happen to love classical music and opera in particular. I am not a musicologist by any stretch, but I have a deep appreciation for how great music makes me FEEL, how it speaks to my heart and reaches the soul. And THAT is what I love most about The Bells: A Novel
~ a splendid visceral novel that gives voice to sound, to vibration, to resonance, to tone... and puts into words how the beauty of pure sound is felt in the heart of the beholder.
Richard Harvell accomplishes this astonishing feat by juxtaposing in three acts the story of Moses Froben ~ the man who was made into an angel, "Lo Svizzero... who could bring an audience to tears with his voice" ~ with the great opera in three acts by Christoph Willibald von Gluck: ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE. ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE is not only one of my favorite operas, and one reason why I am so fond of this novel, but the Greek mythology upon which the opera is based is brilliantly applied to the plotting of The Bells: A Novel
As always when I review, I'd rather not not give a plot summary away but leave it to the reader's own discovery to fall under the spell of great storytelling. To succumb to this novel's charm occurs easily because the well researched background provides all of the vitality necessary for the story to be taken seriously. Its sounds are real. Its settings are real. Some of its characters are real. The history is real. For this reader, the willing suspension of disbelief was easily come by for total engagement in this very original and most enchanting novel.
The original version of the opera ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE, with libretto in Italian by Raniero da Calzabigi, was premiered in Vienna in 1762. It was conducted by the composer Gluck and the lead role of Orpheus was sung by the castrato Gaetano Guadagni. That much, as represented in The Bells: A Novel
, is true, so it is not at all difficult to place the character Moses in that same operatic world of the mid-1700s.
Moses's story from his humble birth in the Swiss Alps to his renowned success on the greatest of stages is so many things: love, beauty, innocence, art, tragedy, drama, dilemma, hatred, loyalty, bravery, fear. His is an epic of emotional truths. Moses is a hero who opens a window into the human spirit. He does it with sound, with his breath, with his voice.
"God is beautiful. He's perfect. And he inspires us to be beautiful and perfect, too. We're not, of course. And that's exactly why we need beauty in our lives: to remind us how good we could be. That's why we chant. That's why Moses sings...For if we know perfect beauty, with our eyes, with our ears, even for a second, we'll come that tiny bit closer to being it ourselves."
The main thrust of the storyline in The Bells: A Novel
is parallel to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The myth becomes the story of the hero Moses and his heroine Amalia. It is very touching and poignant. Another reviewer thought it too melodramatic and over-the-top but I feel, as one who actually loves the melodrama of opera, that this technique, as it does in opera, enables us to experience the emotion, to really get inside the human experience which is being showcased.
I loved this brilliant tour de force and I devoured it with relish. I really hated to put it down. It's been a long time since I was as hooked on cliff-hangers as I was between chapters in The Bells: A Novel
. I adore opera (ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE in particular) and opera and voice play a huge role in the telling of this story. But the reader need not be an opera aficionado or a classical music buff to appreciate this great novel. If you love to read a well-told historical fiction, poetic in language and sensitive in manner, in which unforgettable characters appear in authentic settings, in which the action excites and intrigues, thenThe Bells: A Novel
is for you.