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