LA PIETA & THE RED PRIEST
Antonio Vivaldi the virtuoso violinist and composer of The Four Seasons, was born in Venice in 1678 and daddy insisted that Vivaldi was going to be a priest. Vivaldi dutifully graduated from priesting school in 1703 and being ginger he acquired the nickname 'The Red Priest' It is said that he would stop reading mass every now and again to scribble down some musical ideas. It didn't take long for him to quit reading mass. He complained of a bad chest that may or may not have been real asthma.
He soon picked up a job as a violin teacher at La Pieta and they liked him so much that they renewed his contract every year for most of his life. He was such a favourite that they gave him leave to travel and produce his operas although he was always expected to write two pieces a month for the Orphan orchestra.
There were four orphanages in Venice and La Pieta was the most successful. They were run as self-funding businesses organised by a board of governors. Rather cunningly, they trained all the orphans to play music and sing from their early years. Regular concerts brought the money in. There were also anonymous aristocratic benefactors making guilt donations to ensure the comforts of their discarded affair babies.
There were boys at La Pieta but the orphanage was primarily for women and the Orchestras were made up entirely of the girls. Women could actually live their whole lives at La Pieta and as the girls got older they became more involved in running the place and teaching the younger ones to play.
The girls came from a whole range of the social order, from poor families to the illegitimate children of aristocrats and they were deposited in alcoves in the back wall of the building usually in the dead of night.
The music at La Pieta was very high quality and influenced the whole Venetian scene. One of La Pietas celebrities was a singer called Anna Giraud.
Anna Giraud the illegitimate daughter of a French wigmaker was born in Venice and after spending her infancy with her father she was deposited at La Pieta as an unwanted child. Vivaldi adopted her as a star pupil despite the fact that most considered her to be an average singer with a plain appearance.
The number of his operas she had starring roles in and the fourteen years they spent travelling together fuelled the rumours that Vivaldi had taken an unofficial wife. Remembering of course that Vivaldi had been ordained as a Catholic priest this was a bit controversial. The rumours were prevalent enough for the Cardinal Ruffo to forbid Vivaldi from performing his music in the state of Ferrara. Vivaldi thought nothing of it and Ana Giraud and her younger sister actually moved in with him.