This is a full-length play for a director with access to a large cast.
The parts range from minor to substantial for both male and female actors.
Staging: in the round. Minimal set.
Sound: the main sound effects are extracts of Vivaldi’s music and, though more distant, the sounds of Carnival – singing, laughter, eighteenth-century folk music.
Setting: 18th century Venice. All but two scenes take place within the ‘Ospidale, the others being staged just outside its Night Gate.
The music performed by the girls of the orphanage, the ‘Ospidale della Pieta` in Venice, was renowned throughout 18th century Europe. One key reason for this reputation was the compositions of one of its music teachers, Antonio Vivaldi. However, despite the success his work brought to the ‘Ospidale, Vivaldi’s relationship with its board of Governors was a difficult one. Indeed the ‘Ospidale’s archives contain several references to the votes taken to have Vivaldi removed, such was their dislike of his approach to his teaching and his glittering reputation. The play deals with this relationship, and the struggle between those who wanted rid of Vivaldi, and those – not least the girls themselves – who fought to keep him.
The play opens in the now abandoned ‘Ospidale, its sole inhabitant, Perdita, wandering through its empty rooms, recalling a glory long vanished. Left as an orphan over seventy years before, it is her last night in the building. This is her story and the characters within it are those that emerge from her imagination.
The play’s central theme is the Madre’s struggle with the ‘Ospidale’s board of governors to maintain Vivaldi’s position as music teacher. Although the governing body are split, as the story develops the weight of opinion moves increasingly towards Vivaldi’s dismissal, a situation only exacerbated by Vivaldi’s own seeming inability to tone down his intensely child-centred teaching approach. Whilst the governors remain entrenched in their view of Vivaldi as either an irritating though highly-lucrative source of income or an amoral being deserving of banishment, she alone sees the profound impact of his approach upon the orphan girls’ lack of self-worth and belief.
Set against this are three further sub-plots.
Sub-plot 1: The first concerns the appearance of the wealthy Contessa Strozzi who, as a younger woman, was forced to give up her newly-born daughter to the ‘Ospidale. She has come to reclaim her child and is willing to make a donation to the ‘Ospidale’s funds for her return. Although the records show that the Contessa’s child died within hours of her arrival, the Madre sees an opportunity to fund an Application for Judgement, the Doge of Venice’s positive casting vote on Vivaldi’s retention. Her eventual decision to accept the money and sacrifice one girl for the good of the others causes extremes of reaction from amongst the girls, some seeing the ‘selling’ of one of their own as being against everything the Madre has taught them, others seeing the move as pragmatic.
Sub-plot 2: The second subplot provides the play’s comic element. Two vagabonds, Finzi and Caesar, convinced of the ‘Ospidale’s wealth, contrive to extract a floor plan of the orphanage from Sophia, one of the Madre’s assistants, and use it to guide a gullible English tourist – Scobie Mintus – to the Madre’s study and the treasure. Hopelessly in love with Marianna, one of the musician orphans, the Englishman is keen to accept his part in the scheme. However, despite the fact they rehearse him in dealing with every eventuality by role-playing each possible conversation and challenge he might face en-route to the Madre’s office, the over-complicated plan unravels. Eventually, Finzi decides to enter the ‘Ospidale himself though not for the treasure but for Sophia with whom he has fallen in love in the course of obtaining the floor-plan.
Sub-plot 3: The growth of their relationship makes up the third subplot. Initially made aware of Sophia’s feelings for Finzi and the concern for her friend felt by the more cautious Rosa, the audience observe the impact Sophia’s feelings have upon her own self-worth and the way they propel her towards risking everything on a future with Finzi.