Thursday, March 10, 2016

Atto Melani in 'Imprimatur'

Imprimatur by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti (2002) and translated from Italian into English by Peter Burnett (2008) features Atto Melani, a castrato singer and abbot who is a friend of the narrator's on a 17th-century Da Vinci Code-esque adventure. He was a real person – "a castrato opera singer, also employed as a diplomat and a spy," according to his Wikipedia entry – who appears in this novel as a fictional character.

The narrator knows early on that Atto is a eunuch. “I realized at that point that I had not asked the abbot whether he was a composer, an organist or a choirmaster. Fortunately, I withheld that question. His almost hairless face, unusually gentle and womanish movements, and above all his very clear voice, almost like that of a small boy who had unexpectedly attained maturity, revealed that I was in the presence of an emasculated singer.” (pp. 22-23) At one juncture, Atto sings “non ti chiedo mercé” [I ask you no mercy] and “Lascia ch’io mi disperi” [Let me despair]. (p. 253)

He knows Nicolas Fouquet, who is described as “a mere bell-ringer’s son who, from his beginnings as a poor castrato, had so risen as to dispense counsel to the Sun King.” (p. 80) This does not entail that he always acts with decorum nor that he always receives respect. Atto prods Dulcibeni: “You should thank Huygens and that slobbering old Feroni if they did her the honor of ripping open her maidenhead before they threw her into the sea.” To which Dulcibeni responds: “Silence, castrato, shame of God, you who can only get your arse ripped open...That you liked plunging your cock in the shit, that I knew; but that you head was full of it too...” (p. 461)

Overall he has a strong attitude:

“Very well,” conceded Atto, reaching forward with his lantern to show the way. “It is always up to me to resolve everything.” (p. 84)

The posse includes a sidekick Ugonio who speaks like this: “To obtain more benefice than malefice, and to be more padre than parricide, I abominate the artefactor of this revolting, merdiloquent and shiteful spectacule. He is a disghastly felonable!” (p. 391) They are fixated on medications to ward off plague, such as this recipe: “four drachms of Armenian bole, terra sigillata, zedoary, camphor, tormentil, burning bush and hepatic aloes, with a scruple of saffron and cloves, and one of diagrydium, juice of savoy cabbage and cooked honey.” (p. 54)

Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti. Imprimatur. (2002) Translated from Italian to English by Peter Burnett (2008). Edinburgh: Polygon, 2008.

The sequel is Secretum:

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