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Cry to Heaven

  • Couverture cartonnée
  • 544 Nombre de pages
Eighteenth-century Naples provides the setting for the pain, fears, resentments, desires, and triumphs of peasant-born Guido Maffe... Lire la suite
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Eighteenth-century Naples provides the setting for the pain, fears, resentments, desires, and triumphs of peasant-born Guido Maffeo and patrician-born Tonio Treschi, two castrati--mentor and angel-voiced student--who strive passionately to live full lives

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GUIDO MAFFEO was castrated when he was six years old and sent to study with the finest singing masters in Naples.
 
He had known only routine hunger and cruelty among the large peasant brood to which he was born the eleventh child. And all of his life, Guido remembered he was given his first good meal and soft bed by those who made him a eunuch.
 
It was a beautiful room to which he was taken in the mountain town of Caracena. It had a real floor of smooth stone tiles, and on the wall Guido saw a ticking clock for the first time in his life and was frightened of it. The soft-spoken men who had taken him from his mother’s hands asked him to sing for them. And afterwards rewarded him with a red wine full of honey.
 
These men took off his clothes and put him in a warm bath, but he was so sweetly drowsy by that time he was not afraid of anything. Gentle hands massaged his neck. And slipping back into the water, Guido sensed something marvelous and important was happening to him. Never had any one paid him so much attention.
 
He was almost asleep when they lifted him out and strapped him to a table. He felt he was falling for an instant. His head had been placed lower than his feet. But then he was sleeping again, firmly held, and stroked by those silken hands that moved between his legs to give him a wicked little pleasure. When the knife came he opened his eyes, screaming.
 
He arched his back. He struggled with the straps. But a voice beside him came soft, comforting in his ear, scolding him gently: “Ah, Guido, Guido.”
 
The memory of all this never left him.
 
That night he awoke on snow white sheets that smelled of crushed green leaves. And climbing out of bed in spite of the small bandaged soreness between his legs, he came up short before a little boy in a mirror. In an instant he realized it was his own reflection, which he had never seen before save in still water. He saw his curly dark hair, and touched his face all over, particularly his flat little nose which seemed to him like a piece of moist clay rather than the noses of other people.
 
The man who found him did not punish him, but fed him soup with a silver spoon, and spoke to him in a strange tongue, reassuring him. There were little pictures on the walls, brightly colored, full of faces. They came clear with the rising sun, and Guido saw on the floor a pair of fine leather shoes, shiny and black, and small enough that they would fit on his feet. He knew they would be given to him.
 
It was the year 1715. Louis XIV, le roi soleil of France, had just died. Peter the Great was the czar of Russia.
 
In the far-off North American colony of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin was nine years old. George I had just taken the throne of England.
 
African slaves tilled the fields of the New World on both sides of the equator. A man could be hanged in London for the theft of a loaf of bread. He could be burned alive in Portugal for heresy.
 
Gentlemen covered their heads with great white wigs when they went out; they carried swords, and pinched snuff from small jeweled boxes. They wore breeches buckled at the knee, stockings, shoes with high heels; their coats had enormous pockets. Ladies in ruffled corsets fixed beauty marks to their cheeks. They danced the minuet in hooped skirts; they held salons, fell in love, committed adultery.
 
Mozart’s father had not yet been born. Johann Sebastian Bach was thirty. Galileo had been dead for seventy-three years; Isaac Newton was an old man. Jean Jacques Rousseau was an infant.
 
Italian opera had conquered the world. The year would see Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Tigrane in Naples, Vivaldi’s Narone fatta Cesare in Venice. George Frederick Handel was the most celebrated composer in London.
 
On the sunny Italian peninsula, foreign domination had made great inroads. The Archduke of Austria ruled the northern city of Milan and the southern Kingdom of Naples.
 
But Guido knew nothing of the world. He did not even speak the language of his native country.
 
The city of Naples was more wondrous than anything he had ever beheld, and the conservatorio to which he was brought, overlooking town and sea, seemed as magnificent as a palazzo.
 
The black dress with its red sash he was given to wear was the finest cloth he’d ever touched, and he could scarcely believe he was meant to stay in this place, to sing and play music forever. Surely it wasn’t meant for him. They would one day send him home.
 
But this never happened.
 
On sultry feast day afternoons, walking in slow procession with the other castrati children through the crowded streets, his robes immaculate, his brown curls clean and shining, he was proud to be one of them. Their hymns floated on the air like the mingled scent of the lilies and the candles. And as they entered the lofty church, their thin voices swelling suddenly amid a splendor he’d never before seen, Guido knew his first real happiness.
 
All went well for him over the years. The discipline of the conservatorio was nothing. He had a soprano voice that could shatter glass; he scribbled melodies every time he was given a pen, learning to compose before he could read and write; his teachers loved him.
 
But as time passed, his understanding deepened.
 
Early on, Guido realized that not all the musicians around him had been “cut” as little boys. Some would grow up to be men, to marry, to have children. But no matter how well the violinists played, no matter how much the composers wrote, none could ever achieve the fame, the riches, the pure glory of a great castrato singer.
 
Italian musicians were wanted the world over for the church choirs, the court orchestras, the opera houses.
 
But it was the soprano singer whom the world worshiped. It was for him that kings vied and audiences held their breath; it was the singer who brought to life the very essence of the opera.
 
Nicolino, Cortono, Ferri, their names were remembered long after the composers who’d written for them were forgotten. And in the little world of the conservatorio, Guido was part of an elect, a privileged group who were better fed, better dressed, and given warmer rooms as their singular talent was nourished.
 
But as the ranks swelled, as older castrati left and new castrati came, Guido soon saw that hundreds were submitted to the knife each year for a handful of fine voices. They came from all over: Giancarlo, lead singer of a Tuscan choir, cut at twelve through the kindness of the country maestro who brought him to Naples; Alonso, from a family of musicians, his uncle a castrato who arranged for the operation; or the proud Alfredo, who had lived so long in the house of his patron he did not remember his parents or the surgeon either.
 
And then there were the unwashed, the illiterate, the little boys who didn’t speak the language of Naples when they came—boys like Guido.
 
That his parents had sold him outright was now obvious to him. He wondered had any maestro properly tested his voice before it was done. He could not remember. Perhaps he was caught in a random net, sure to ensnare something of value.
 
But all this Guido perceived from the corner of his eye. Lead singer in the choir, soloist on the conservatorio stage, he was already writing out exercises for the younger pupils. By the age of ten he was taken out to hear Nicolino at the theater, given a harpsichord of his own, permission to stay up late to practice. Warm blankets, a fine coat, his rewards were more than he would ever have asked, and now and then he was taken to sing for delighted company in the dazzle of a real palazzo.
 
Before the doubts of the second decade of life, Guido had laid for himself a great foundation in study and regimen. His voice, high, pure, unusually light and flexible, was now an official marvel.
 
But as happens with any human creature, the blood of his ancestors—despite the mutation of his castration—continued to shape him. Of a people swarthy and stocky of build, he did not grow into a reed of a eunuch as did many around him. Rather his form was heavy, well proportioned, and gave a deceptive impression of power.
 
And though his curly brown hair and sensuous mouth lent a touch of the cherub to his face, a dark down on his upper lip made him appear manly.
 
In fact, his would have been a pleasing appearance had it not been for two factors: his nose, broken by a childhood fall, was flattened exactly as if a giant hand had squashed it. And his brown eyes, large and full of feeling, glinted with the wily brutality of the peasants who had been his forefathers.
 
Where these men had been taciturn and shrewd, Guido was studious and stoical. Where they had struggled with the elements of the earth, he gave himself violently to any sacrifice for his music.
 
But Guido was far from crude in manner or appearance. Rather, taking his teachers as models, he imbibed all he could of gracious deportment, as well as the poetry, Latin, the classical Italian taught to him.
 
So he grew into a young singer of considerable presence whose stark particularities lent him a disturbing seductiveness.
 
All his life some would say of him, “How ugly he is,” while others would say, “But he is beautiful!”
 
But of one thing he was quite unaware; he exuded menace. His people had been more brutal than the animals they tended; and he had the look of one who might do anything to you. It was the passion in his eyes, the squashed nose, the lush mouth—all of it put together.
 
And so without his realizing it, a protective shield enveloped him. People didn’t try to bully him.
 
Yet all who knew Guido liked him. The regular boys liked him as much as did his fellow eunuchs. The violinists loved him because he became fascinated with them individually and wrote music for them that was exquisite. And Guido came to be known as quiet, no-nonsense, the gentle bear cub, not one to be afraid of once you came to know him.
 

Informations sur le produit

Titre: Cry to Heaven
Sous-titre: A Novel
Auteur:
Code EAN: 9780345373700
ISBN: 978-0-345-37370-0
Format: Couverture cartonnée
Editeur: Random House N.Y.
Genre: Autres ouvrages de référence
nombre de pages: 544
Année: 1991

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