The Bells by Richard Harvell

I first learned of the castrati while reading Anne Rice’s novel, Cry to Heaven, in the late ’90s.  The castrati were pre-pubescent boys that were purposely castrated so that they would retain their singing voice into adulthood.  The sheer horror of the practice caused that little historical nugget to stay in my mind, so that when I read a blurb about Richard Harvell’s debut novel, The Bells, it jumped out at me again.  I decided to try it and I wasn’t disappointed.

Presented as a letter to his adopted son, The Bells is the story of Moses Froben – a poor, uneducated boy born to a deaf-mute mother that lived in isolation, high in the belfry of a small-town church in the Swiss Alps and how he grows into one of the most celebrated opera singers of the time, known only as Lo Svissero.

Most of the villagers believe Moses is also deaf-mute, so after he witnesses a crime and they discover that he can in fact hear and speak, he flees for his life.  He receives help from two traveling monks, who hearing his situation, take pity on him and bring him to the Abbey of St. Gall.  Growing up in a belfry, Moses has developed a gift for music and his ears soon lead him to the boys’ choir at the Abbey.  The choirmaster, Ulrich, recognizes his gift and trains him.  Ulrich can’t bear for this gift to go away as Moses ages and has Moses castrated against his will.  At that time, the Swiss Confederation had outlawed castration and so Moses is forced, once again, to flee.  He chooses to follow a young woman of the upper class that he has fallen in love with to Vienna, where she will be married.

The rest of Moses’ journey and transformation into a father and into Lo Svissero is full of all the elements that make up a good opera – love, tragedy and passion.

Find and request this book in our online catalog.

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