Thursday 29 June 2023

Michelene Wandor, "Orfeo's Last Act"


Michelene Wandor is a playwright, poet, fiction writer and cultural critic. She has taught Creative Writing for over three decades, currently as tutor on the Distance Learning MA at Lancaster University. Her most recent poetry collection is Travellers (Arc Publications). She is editor of the anthology Critical-Creative Writing: Two Sides of the Same Coin. Her new novel is Orfeo's Last Act (Greenwich Exchange, 2023). Her website is here.  

About Orfeo's Last Act: A Novel in Two Parts

Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century northern Italy in the Golden Age, Orfeo’s Last Act brings the magic of Mantua, Florence and Venice to vivid life.

The Gonzaga Duke objects to the violent ending of Monteverdi’s opera, Orfeo. With the help of Jewish composer, Salamone Rossi, Monteverdi supplies a new happy Act V. The original ending is lost.

In twenty-first-century Britain, amateur musician, Emilia, discovers a faded musical manuscript in an East Anglian stately home ... Across the centuries, harmony and discord vie for resolution in a story which thrills and shocks.

A triumphant debut from the poet and critic, Michelene Wandor, Orfeo’s Last Act is a must read for anyone interested in historical fiction or classical music.

You can read more about Orfeo's Last Act on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an extract from the opening of the novel. 

From Orfeo's Last Act, by Michelene Wandor


The mist mixes with spatters of mud, the stench of shit and sweat, wet and warm, mud drops on my arms, my face and round my eyes, till I blink and breathe water, human and animal detritus, the fertile muck of the fields. It reminds me of the rains of 1599. Mutazione di secolo. The end of the century, or the end of the world.  

I climb up the bank from the lake, skirt the Castello di San Giorgio, and walk round the Cattedrale di San Pietro. I stand for a moment: across the Piazza di San Pietro, I see the Palazzo Ducale. 

I walk along the side of the piazza, thinking I must be careful not to tread on any of the cracks in the cobbles. If I do, the ground will heave and throb under the sucking impact of my soft, silent shoes, and I will be sucked down into the marshes until there is nothing left of me but my voice.

I know this is ridiculous. First of all, the cobbles are so small, that I can’t help treading on the joins between them, and nothing happens when I do. Anyway, it is a long time since the marshes threatened anyone at this end of the island, this fiercely covered and protected end. The marshes have long been drained, filled in, built upon. 

There are still canals, remnants of the many rivers and waterways which criss-crossed the island. And yet, I am safer here than in Venice, where canals haunt at every turn, where it is easy to disappear in the middle of the black night. I am safer here than on the hills of Florence.

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