Angelo Montegne unwittingly pays a high price to study at a music conservatory in 1698 Florence in this Dutch import.
The 12-year-old expects to inherit his father’s tannery but for now takes joy in singing in the church choir. He dreams of becoming famous when he’s given the chance to sing a solo for the pope, and his exceptionally beautiful soprano voice attracts the attention of priests in charge of the conservatory. When his father dies, a bewildered Angelo is coerced into a grisly visit to a barber on his way to Florence, where he joins other “sopranists” castrated to preserve their high voices. Angelo’s descriptive first-person account spans four years as he gains an understanding of the world he has entered, with its decadence and unsavory demands, while wondering what chance he might have with any of the girls he’s attracted to, including Rosa Scarlatti, daughter of the famous composer. Ellis’ fine translation captures the distinct voices of several characters, from the cheeky Paolo, Angelo’s guide to life at the conservatory, to the padres who make no bones about Angelo being their “gold mine,” hired out to Florence’s most important families, which include the Medicis. Angelo’s highly personal story is imbued with historical details that provide a vivid sense of time and place.
A compelling and unusual slice of European history that will be new to many young adults. (Historical fiction. 13-17)