• Sheryl Gwyther

#23 Searching for Vivaldi and Caterina ... pt 2

In the grand lobby of Hotel Metropole where I meet Micky White, researcher and archivist of Antonio Vivaldi's years at the Ospedale della Pietà, there are four, white limestone pillars. They are the original columns of the Ospedale (ospedale in this case meant 'hospitality' not hospital) on this site back in the 1700s, when Vivaldi was their music master.

Surrounded by hanging kimonos, the four pillars are an incongruous part of a fashion show in this exclusive hotel on Venice's prime waterfront position. I spot them immediately because Micky White had pointed them out in a documentary I'd seen.

She lives here in Venice, speaks and reads Italian, and has been searching through the Ospedale archives for decades in search of Vivaldi the man. A topic that hasn't been explored before. And Micky had graciously agreed to meet me when I came to Venice. She doesn't always avail herself to requests like this ... I know it's a privilege.

I'd seen her in the BBC video where she shows the Oxford Girls Choir around the Ospedale Museum as part of the filmed recreation of the famous choir from the 1700s. I recognise her immediately.

Shorter than me, and a little stooped; a British accent and maybe a touch wary of a stranger wanting to pick her brain, she led Ross and I through the Hotel Metropole, out to their green-ferned courtyard where a fountain and the earth-coloured walls of the hotel are backdrop.

Back in 1700s, these hotel rooms on the top floor were the Ospedale's music practice room where Vivaldi worked with the girls and women of the choir, and a performance hall with a stage area. A winding staircase leading up to the music room is still there.

After a bit of small talk, we get into the subject - Micky is more at ease once I start on my list of questions she could answer one at a time.

And she does; providing information she's unearthed that back up aspects of my story; disagreeing with a couple of things I'd included in my story - historical facts that couldn't be altered just to suit the plot (she's right) ... like the fact the Ospedale wasn't run by nuns as I'd thought, but by older ex-pupils who'd done well and who'd risen through the ranks of what was essentially, a co-operative of care.

She is also upfront about what she doesn't know or hadn't found any definite information about in her years of research ... little grey areas where I can blend fact and fiction quite well.

This research is to ensure my character, Caterina sits well in this special time of musical history ... after all, this girl is the crux of the story. If she doesn't end up a perfect fit, my story would lack authenticity. And the same goes for Vivaldi. And for Venice itself.

It's critical to get it right ... as any historical fiction writer knows. My sister, Robbie says ... 'not everyone will appreciate the authenticity, but the truth of your story will shine through and its light will attract the discerning ones.' Very perceptive, my sister!

I can tell if an author does the hard yards of research in a novel, and then, masterly and invisibly melds it into the story. My friend, Australian author, Karen Brooks has this skill in abundance. Check out her work.

Overall, my interview with Micky White was a success. I've met someone who is even more of a Vivaldi-fan than me ... he has become her lifelong passion, I suspect. And why not? What other famous composer and musician produced such a fine body of work while teaching young musicians and singers to reach the pinnacle of their creative abilities.

Check out the short piece below from the BBC4 production, Vivaldi's Women - it's filmed in the church I was in the other day. The choir and Micky proved once and for all that Vivaldi wrote for the tenor and bass female voices in his choir, and more importantly that Vivaldi did not bring in male voices to the Ospedale (as many in the past have insisted happened ... how could women sing as low as men?) Of course, they can.

Micky, if you chance upon this post ... although I bet you're not into social media ... thank you again for opening this author's eyes even more to Vivaldi's and Caterina's Venice.

#KarenBrooks #VivaldisGloria #MickyWhite