Cry to Heaven
Cry to Heaven is a standalone historical novel by Anne Rice
Anne Rice
Anne Rice is a best-selling Southern American author of metaphysical gothic fiction, Christian literature and erotica from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her books have sold nearly 100 million copies, making her one of the most widely read authors in modern history...

, first published in 1982. Taking place in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 during the eighteenth century, it follows the paths of two unlikely collaborators: a Venetian
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 noble and a maestro from Calabria
Calabria , in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula. The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro....

, both trying to succeed in the world of the opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...


Plot introduction

Guido Maffeo, born a peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

, is castrated at the age of six to preserve his soprano
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

 voice, and becomes a star of the opera by the time he's a teenager. However, like many castrati
A castrato is a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto voice produced either by castration of the singer before puberty or one who, because of an endocrinological condition, never reaches sexual maturity.Castration before puberty prevents a boy's...

, he loses his voice as he enters manhood. After a failed suicide attempt
Failed suicide attempt
Failed suicide attempts comprise a large portion of suicide attempts. Some are regarded as not true attempts at all, but rather parasuicide. The usual attempt may be a wish to affect another person by the behaviour. Consequently, it occurs in a social context and may represent a request for help....

, he becomes a music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

A teacher or schoolteacher is a person who provides education for pupils and students . The role of teacher is often formal and ongoing, carried out at a school or other place of formal education. In many countries, a person who wishes to become a teacher must first obtain specified professional...

 in the Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 conservatorio where he was raised. While he becomes an excellent teacher and composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

, he is denied the fame he originally had.

Tonio Treschi is (apparently) the last son of a noble family from the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

, his father, Andrea, a member of the Serenissima
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

's Council of Three. About ten years younger than Guido, he possesses a natural soprano voice, and enjoys singing
Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, and augments regular speech by the use of both tonality and rhythm. One who sings is called a singer or vocalist. Singers perform music known as songs that can be sung either with or without accompaniment by musical instruments...


However, the Treschi family hides a great secret - Tonio is not the last heir of the house, but the youngest; his older brother, Carlo, was exiled for embarrassing the family. While Andrea Treschi attempts to cut Carlo out of the family, after his death, Carlo returns and plots to regain his original position. To this end, he decides on a cruel and ironic
Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions...

 method - because of his voice, he has Tonio castrated, and sends him off with Guido to study in Naples. Tonio is thus left in a hard position, divided between his love of music on one side, and his desire for revenge on the other.

Plot summary

As Tonio learns, Carlo is actually his father. However, although everyone in Venice is inclined to believe that Carlo was behind his castration, Tonio cannot accuse him of the crime because doing so would result in the "extinction" of the Treschi family. After some soul-searching, he decides to remain in Naples and study under Guido, holding off on revenge until after Carlo and his mother (also Carlo's lover and later wife) have children to ensure the family line.

Because of Tonio's almost unhuman soprano voice, Guido is roused from his depression, and takes him as a star student. Tonio progresses in his lessons extremely quickly. Guido also has Tonio perform some of his original compositions, which begin to impress audiences at the conservatorio.

Tonio, for his part, struggles to come to terms with his castrato status - in his own mind, he is "less than a man." At first, he finds it difficult to even associate with his fellow castrati. As time goes on, he has a love affair with another castrati boy, Domenico, and after Domenico leaves, with Guido himself. He comes to dominate the conservatorio - in addition to being a star student, he soon befriends all the boys his age and becomes something of a leader and confidant.

Also, Tonio continues his studies in fencing
Fencing, which is also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing, is a family of combat sports using bladed weapons.Fencing is one of four sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games...

 and firearms, which, in Guido's words, make him into a "hero" to his fellow students, especially after he kills (in self-defense
Self-defense, self-defence or private defense is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself, one's property or the well-being of another from physical harm. The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many...

) a student who vowed to kill him. Because he was raised to be a gentleman
The term gentleman , in its original and strict signification, denoted a well-educated man of good family and distinction, analogous to the Latin generosus...

, and because he was castrated relatively later in life, he continues to act like a man, unlike the more effeminate poses of castrati boys. Despite the fact he's a castrato, even local noblemen come to respect him both as a sparring partner and a friend.

However, Guido and others need to scheme to finally get Tonio out of the conservatorio and onto the stage. After his debut, Guido and Tonio travel to Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 for his premiere opera, where he gains the patronage of a powerful cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

, Calvino, and befriends a powerful count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

 from Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, di Stefano. Although he is almost booed off the stage for upstaging the operatic star Bettichino, he proves a great success, and both he and Guido have a bright future in front of him. He even becomes lovers with an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 noblewoman and widow, Christina, which seems to restore him to his former status.

However, Tonio is unable to break free of the desire for revenge against Carlo. After having two children by Carlo, Tonio's mother, Marianna, dies. Soon afterwards - and before his Fat Tuesday opera performance - hitmen sent by Carlo try to kill him. Against the wishes of all his friends, Tonio vows to return in time for an Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

 opera, then disappears.

In Venice, Carlo has become a pathetic alcoholic wreck. Disguised as a woman (a trick he learned for the opera), Tonio succeeds in "seducing" his father and capturing him. Intoxicated, Carlo curses ever coming back to Venice, and even wanting to take Tonio's place, finding the city decadent and confining. Although he promises never to try and hurt Tonio again, he attempts to kill him the second he has the opportunity. In response, Tonio finally kills Carlo. He then returns to his friends, finally able to fully pursue his life.

Major themes

Although Cry to Heaven is not considered one of Anne Rice's pornographic novels, it stands out because of its constant, graphic, and romantic descriptions of homosexual sex, mainly between teenage castrati boys. Additionally, Tonio has affairs with "whole men" such as the Roman cardinal and the Florentine count.

Despite this, it is difficult to say that any of the characters are truly homosexual, even the non-castrati. As Guido explains, castrati are seen as neither male or female, and enjoy a type of "freedom" in their relations. Guido openly extols this freedom - although he clearly loves Tonio, he has an ongoing affair with a wealthy contessa, whom he also loves. Tonio's relations before his castration, and by the end of the novel, are predominantly heterosexual, despite his many affairs with other boys. Even effete castrati, such as Domenico (who is submissive to Tonio during their affair), have sex with both genders.

A darker reason for this may be Guido's warning that castrati, as they age, lose their sexual desire. Because of this, he encourages Tonio to act on his desires whenever they seize him, as the day may come when he no longer has such desires.

The bisexual nature of the characters is similar to that of the vampires in Rice's Vampire Chronicles
The Vampire Chronicles
The Vampire Chronicles is a series of novels by Anne Rice that revolves around the fictional character Lestat de Lioncourt, a French nobleman turned into a vampire in the 18th century....

. Like Lestat, neither Guido nor Tonio discriminate based on gender.

Also, although there are no supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

 elements in Cry to Heaven, Tonio is often described in super-human terms. For example, his voice is considered "angelic," and his slender yet strong frame, at times, ghostly.

Literary significance & criticism

Cry to Heaven is one of Anne Rice's early novels and, along with The Feast of All Saints, a highly-researched historical tale. The book's afterword reveals Rice's extensive research, ranging from medical and anatomic
Anatomy is a branch of biology and medicine that is the consideration of the structure of living things. It is a general term that includes human anatomy, animal anatomy , and plant anatomy...

 information into castration to her immersion in the world of 18th century opera.

The book is also considered one of Rice's best historic novels. In particular, the New York Times Book Review section, when reviewing Rice's historical novels, often refers back to Cry to Heaven as a comparison, much to the disadvantage of her more recent works.

ISBN 0-345-39693-6
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