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Venetian Curiosities Hardcover – April 3, 2012
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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Beautifully recorded on antique instruments. Take a glass of good prosecco, sit down, read, and listen.” Peter Green, The New Republic
About the Author
Il Complesso Barocco is an international ensemble dedicated to Baroque music on original instruments. Winner of the Antonio Vivaldi International Recording Prize, it has played a fundamental role in the modern revival of Baroque operas, especially those of Monteverdi, Handel, and Vivaldi.
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That being said, I must note that the illustrations of the characteristic paintings of Pietro Longhi and Canaletto are lovely, and Ms Leon's vignettes of contemporary seventeenth- and eighteenth-century life, manners, and morals in La Serenissima are intriguing--as far as they go. One merely wonders why she did not elaborate on the stories, which, as they are, serve as mere program notes to a pleasant CD of eight Vivaldi concerti. And as program notes, they are less than satisfying, since they say nothing about Vivaldi's music.
I suppose in this economy, one is lucky to have such lovely illustrations so beautifully reproduced, no matter how minuscule, but the book, with its meagre historical snippets, left me feeling a bit underfed, as it were. Like a Venetian version of Oliver Twist, I wanted--and expected--MORE!
Its three parts comprise seven legendary stories Venetians love to tell, retell and embellish, accompanied by full-page, full-color reproductions of paintings or details from paintings of Venice and Venetians by Canaletto and Longhi and, enclosed inside its back cover, a CD with seven Vivaldi concertos, performed by the award winning ensemble Il Complesso Barocco. Listening to the 67-minute CD will probably take longer than reading the seven stories and viewing the accompanying art.
I can see this on the guest room night stands of Yank and Brit expats living in Venice. I can see it as an atmosphere enhancer for someone unwinding at day's end by listening to some Vivaldi or perhaps as a going away gift for a Venice-bound friend, but that's about as far as my imagination takes me. Maybe you can do better. So let me tell you a bit more:
Donna Leon, the American-born creator of the hugely popular Commissario Brunetti detective stories, has delved into her adopted city's Archivo to get to the truth of seven legendary tales Venetians love to tell. She begins with one about an angry Carnavale elephant who stomped off and barricaded himself inside a church. Then some wild tales associated with her adopted city's longtime obsession with gambling. And how Venice's beauteous 16th century prostitutes became its major tourist attraction. And how Venetians' love of luxury would lead to excesses like the well-to-do family who threw their golden plates out the window and into the canal after dinner every night. Then there's the one about the sausage maker acclaimed for his squazzetto, until the night a customer found part of a child's finger in his serving, leading denizens of the neighborhood to wonder if that just might explain its many missing children. And the one about the young baker who, on a cold March morning in 1507, was wrongly accused of theft and hanged, and who's honored to this day with an ever-burning oil lamp somewhere in the basilica, though no one seems to know just where.
The Vivaldi, beautifully played by Il Complesso Barocco, comprises seven concertos for various instruments--two for violin and one each for cello, oboe and bassoon, bassoon, strings, and oboe. This is the same ensemble that performed the Handel arias included with Leon's 2011 book "Handel's Bestiary."