Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: The Bells - Richard Harvell

Chronicling the journey of 18th-century singer Moses Froben from his Swiss village to Vienna, this debut novel strikes many melodramatic notes in an overwrought plot; squalor, beauty, horror, forbidden love, tragedy, and triumph splash broadly, sometimes artfully, but often with operatic excess. Moses, born to a deaf-mute in a belfry, possesses a unique bond to music. Cast from his home, he joins a choir, discovering that he can mold "that ocean of sound... into something beautiful." Harvell, however, shows his own limitations when he seeks to describe the resonance of music. When Moses says, "I wished I could dissolve into sound," the reader shares his frustration. A tormented choirmaster castrates Moses to preserve his beautiful voice, transforming him into a "musico," a soprano whose voice never deepens, and who will never be a man. His ability to sound like an angel brings him into contact with a wealthy family, sparking an impossible love affair with a beautiful but crippled woman. Moses's ardor impels him to Vienna and its vibrant opera scene, where his brief appearance on stage allows love to triumph before, unsurprisingly, tragedy brings down the curtain. - Publishers Weekly
In the past six months, books added to my TBR list have been influenced by the buzz I see on Twitter.  The Bells is a perfect example of this situation.  In turns out this book is also my book club pick for the upcoming year (we aren't officially reading/discussing till June). 

I liked how the story was told from Moses' perspective after he passed away via a letter to his son Nicolai.  Without giving too much away, I really was hoping for more about Moses' career in Venice at the opera.  As a singer myself, I found the description of how Moses felt went he sang -vibrations & making others vibrate/hum - very fascinating.  Those passages made me go back and reread multiple times and try to imagine Moses' singing.

I did feel some of the "opportunities" that Moses got seemed a little unrealistic.  Overall though I liked how the historical aspects of the book were interwoven into the fictional plot.  In a way this book offers a view into the creative side of an opera that patrons of opera might not always see.  Including a well-known composer - Christoph Gluck - within the story allowed the reader to see how a composer might interact with a singer or producer of an opera.

While there is some sensitive subject matter addressed within the book, I would recommend this book to singers and lovers of opera or even just readers who love a good romance story.

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