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by Vivien Shotwell
Young and pretty, opera singer Anna Storace has the voice of an angel. Born in London, and trained by an exiled castrato, she travels to Italy while still a teenager to refine her singing and acting skills with some of the country’s greatest performers. Her rise to fame is rapid, and in a few years Anna is invited by the Emperor Joseph to live and perform in Vienna. Although her personal life is full of upheaval and heartbreak, Anna’s popularity continues to soar. She mixes with the best musicians of her day, and even begins an affair with the composer Mozart, inspiring some of his greatest works with her stunning voice.
Vivien Shotwell’s strongest passages come when she describes singing or music. She describes Anna’s performances so passionately that you can almost hear the songs echoing out of the pages. As a trained classical singer, Shotwell knows music and performance intimately, and her familiarity makes the story ring with authenticity.
At times, the heroine Anna Storace comes off as a touch melodramatic. I suppose this isn’t a surprise. She’s a teenager during the first half of the story, so is it any wonder that she’s prone to sudden mood swings and passionate declarations of love and naïve belief that romance will last forever? Of course not. Think of all the Miley Cyrus and Justin Biebers in the world – teenagers thrown into the spotlight don’t always make wise decisions. Even when she’s older, Anna continues to act on impulses, but I suppose when one plays dramatic, overly emotional women on the stage it’s bound to rub off on the personal life. But no matter how disastrous Anna’s social life, her musical career always survives.
The pacing in this novel is very fast. It feels rushed, and while at times this suits the whirlwind that is Anna’s life, at other times the characterizations feel shallow and unfinished because we spend so little time with Anna’s teacher or her rivals. But in spite of this, the book does a wonderful job of creating a beautiful, artificial play-world for the wealthy elite of Vienna, and as the singing bird that entertains them Anna is perfect. Her triumphant moments on the stage more than pay for the uneven pacing and occasional over-the-top soap opera drama that crop up in the novel.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Metamorphoses by Ovid
2012: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
2011: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
2010: Halo: An Angel’s Story by Christopher Knowles
2009: Guest Post: Fool by Christopher Moore