Mu­si­cal ro­mance falls a lit­tle flat

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - VIT WAG­NER

Vi­enna Noc­turne lands squarely on the pop­ulist side of his­tor­i­cal ro­mance, mi­nus the over­heated rip­ping of bodices. It is the story of Anna Storace, a cel­e­brated English so­prano who was a favourite of Aus­tria’s mu­sic-lov­ing Joseph II and an ac­quain­tance of Mozart. Most no­tably, she sang — and helped cre­ate — the role of Su­sanna in the 1786 pre­miere of The Mar­riage of Fi­garo in Vi­enna.

It is the de­but novel for the Nova Sco­tia-raised Vivien Shotwell, an opera singer in her own right. Shotwell’s back­ground lends au­then­tic­ity to the story’s fre­quent mu­si­co­log­i­cal com­men­tary, in­clud­ing an ex­pla­na­tion of opera buffa’s ori­gins in com­me­dia dell’arte. It is ev­i­dent, through­out, that the nar­ra­tive has been com­posed by some­one with an im­plicit un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic mak­ing, par­tic­u­larly from the per­spec­tive of singing.

Shotwell’s sto­ry­telling abil­i­ties are less ap­par­ent. It is well within the rights of her imag­i­na­tion to in­vent a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship be­tween Storace and Mozart, even if, as Shotwell her­self al­lows, there is no proof the two were sex­u­ally in­ti­mate. Af­ter all, there is lit­tle to sug­gest the pro­fes­sional ri­valry be­tween Mozart and Salieri in any way re­sem­bled its de­pic­tion in the im­mensely suc­cess­ful Amadeus, but that didn’t pre­vent view­ers from get­ting caught up in its tale of re­venge.

Vi­enna Noc­turne, apart from the amus­ingly con­trived scene in which Storace By Vivien and Mozart first Shotwell meet, plods dully Bond Street through Storace’s Books prodi­gal ap­pren­tice­ship, un­for­tu­nate mar­riage, even­tual celebrity and other bio­graph­i­cal de­tails. The prob­lem isn’t that there’s too much ar­ti­fice. It’s that there’s too lit­tle.

If you are go­ing to play fast and loose with his­tor­i­cal events, you might as well have your way with them.

Vi­enna Noc­turne

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