The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

VIENNA NOCTURNE: A Novel By Vivien Shotwell

Vienna Nocturne by Vivien ShotwellPublisher:  Ballantine Books
Release Date:  February 25, 2014
Pages:  304
Genre:  Historical Fiction

Book Description - In late-eighteenth-century London, a young girl takes her first singing lessons with a mysterious castrato in exile. Her life is forever changed. Having learned everything he can teach her, Anna leaves behind all the security and familiarity of home and journeys to Naples and Venice to struggle and triumph in Italy’s greatest opera houses. Only sixteen, she finds herself in an intoxicating world of theaters, nobility, and vice, overwhelmed by her newfound freedom and fame. Her first bitter experience of love and heartbreak inevitably follow. 

Within a few years, Anna is invited to sing in Vienna, the City of Music, by the emperor himself. There, in a teasing game of theft and play, Anna first meets Mozart, a young virtuoso pianist and striving, prodigiously talented composer. They are matched in intellect and talent, and an immediate and undeniable charge forms between the two, despite both being married to others. 

As her star rises in Vienna and her personal life deteriorates, Anna experiences an ultimate crisis. During this trying time, her only light is Mozart: his energy, his determination in her, and his art. She, in turn, becomes his hope and inspiration, and his joy, as he writes for her some of his most exquisite and enduring arias—music that will live on as his masterworks. 

Rich in historical detail and beautifully wrought by Vivien Shotwell, an author who is herself an opera singer, Vienna Nocturne is a dramatic tour de force of a woman’s struggle to find love and fame in an eighteenth-century world that controls and limits her at every turn.

Wanda's Thoughts - This was an extraordinary read! The tempo picked up early on and I couldn’t put it down. A portrait of a woman, a phenomenal musician, emerges in this beautifully written novel. 

Late 18th Century – England – Anna Storace was an extremely talented eleven-year-old girl. She played harp and guitar and could sing anything on sight. She becomes a student of the famous Castrato, Venazio Rauzzini, who took one look at Anna and cherished her like she was a treasure. Within a few short years, Rauzzini shapes her voice, and truly believes Anna can become a great opera star. Anna and her family depart for Naples. Nowhere in the world was superb singing more prized than in Italy. Anna and her family meet up with many hardships. There are so many singers in Naples and an entire year is cursed by a fog of confusion. Anna’s father dies and her family is left alone with little money, and debts accumulating in both London and Naples. And the story unfolds ---

CHARACTERS ---

Francesco Benucci – Buffo – a male singer of comic roles in opera. Anna and Benucci become a match in Vienna and Anna falls in love with him, but he doesn’t return her love.

John Fisher is a virtuoso violinist. He is a widower and an acquaintance from London and arrives in Vienna with no friends. He desires some English company, especially music lovers. He connects with Anna’s family and a marriage occurs that only produces heartache and tragedy.

Stephen Storace is Anna’s older brother and a prodigy on the violin. He’s very protective of Anna and she has the utmost respect for him. 

Aloysia – Mozart’s sister-in-law, married to a well-regarded actor and painter, Joseph Lange. Mozart was in love with Aloysia, but she wouldn’t have him, so he married her sister, Constanze. 

The eccentric Amadeus Mozart was an absolutely brilliant musician, and had been composing since he was a boy. Anna had heard many virtuosi play, but Mozart surpassed them all. When playing the piano Mozart used such a variety of expression with unbelievable improvisations. He was jovial, but filled with such intensity, his music being so extremely complicated. Mozart and Anna enter into a love affair, which may or may not have really happened according to the author’s notes at the end. 

With the exception of just a few, the characters are based on actual people. The timeline and many scenes are based on real events.

There is so much to love about this book. It is a rich treat for music lovers, especially those of opera. The plot, while mixing elements of reality with fiction, brings this musical history to life in the most intimate way. The author also brings the melodies of Mozart to life with her beautiful style of writing – it truly amazed me and I was compelled to read on. The storyline never loses momentum and you’re drawn in with its wide cast of eccentric characters. There are scenes in the book that I found deeply touching – a thoroughly great read! Don’t miss this one! 5 stars.

Vivien Shotwell
The Author - 
Vivien Shotwell is a classically trained singer with degrees from Williams College, the Yale School of Music, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. As an undergraduate voice student at Williams, Shotwell first sang the beautiful aria “Non temer, amato bene” (“Don’t fear, greatly beloved”), which Mozart wrote for and performed with the young soprano Anna Storace, and knew she had to tell their story. A daughter of independent booksellers, Shotwell was born in Colorado, raised in Nova Scotia, and now divides her time between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and New Haven, Connecticut. This is her first novel.