Vienna Nocturne

9780345536372_p0_v1_s260x420Vivien Shotwell’s romantic historical novel – Vienna Nocturne – prompted me to google opera singer Anna Storace to find out just how much of the story was true.  Shotwell does not stray far from the facts, documenting Storace’s frenzied life as a star in the Vienna opera houses among other notable talent of the day, especially Mozart.

The story opens with a young Anna taking lessons from a revered teacher in London, who eventually sends her off to study in Italy.  After she upstages the male star in her debut, Anna performs at La Scala and then in Venice where she is recruited by an Italian count to sing at the  opera house of Emperor Joseph II, and becomes the prima donna of Vienna.  Eventually, she meets Mozart, who helps her through a difficult time when she has lost her voice and inspires him to write the part of Susanna in Figaro for her return to the stage.

Shotwell embellishes Anna’s life with fiction, including affairs with older men, a marriage to hide the scandal of pregnancy, and a daughter who dies soon after birth – even the affair with a married Mozart is undocumented.  Although Anna clearly has a beautiful voice, Shotwell focuses on Storace’s reputation as a lively and convincing character actress on stage – unusual for opera singers of that time – as the catalyst for the imagined storied love life off stage.




Opera House

In describing Emperor Joseph, Shotwell notes he  “had to be kept rich in chocolate drops or he lost his optimism” – I could relate to that – and Shotwell’s version of Anna Storace’s life is full of delicious bonbons, sometimes overly frosted.  By the last chapters, I was skipping over the drawn-out declarations of love.  Nevertheless, her descriptions of Vienna brought back my recent trip and the historical information prompted me to learn more about the musical world of that time.  As a romantic story, frilled with history, Vienna Nocturne is a little over the top, but still an appealing and enjoyable read.


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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Memoirs are not my favorite genre and the last time I read Anna Quindlen, she scared me away with the desolation of her novel,  Every Last One, but a good friend suggested that I read Quindlen’s memoir – Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

Not willing to wait out the long library reserve list, I escaped to a Barnes and Noble to nurse a double espresso while reading the red covered book with a flap that boasted “You wouldn’t believe how cheaply I can do a kitchen renovation” – sounded promising.
So, Anna became my morning coffee companion.

As she chatted about friends, school, religion, and children, I realized we have a lot in common. I squirted coffee out my nose laughing at her wanting to lick the brownie bowl without sharing with her small children. (One of my first published pieces was about licking the cake batter bowl.) Although I admired her handstands and one-arm pushups, she did not inspire me to do the same, but her admonition to “drive out fear” is advice worth keeping. When was the last time you did not try something because you were afraid of the outcome?

After a while, I took Anna home with me and discovered her mother had made her pepper-onion-egg sandwiches just as mine had for me. I listened intently as her life changed when her mother became ill when Anna was 19, and suddenly realized the significance of her theme of loss in most of her novels.

Quindlen’s memories have a universality that will resonate with anyone who appreciates “the examined life,” but I made an unexpected connection – just as my friend suggested I would. As for that kitchen renovation, she took the words right out of my mouth…

A safety net of small white lies can be the bedrock of a successful marriage.

Book Review: Every Last One