Anna Storace comes to the opera stage in Naples as “L’inglesina,” a 15-year-old prodigy overshadowed by the native Italian singers. Six years later she returns to London the most famous prima donna of Vienna and a personal favorite of the Austrian emperor. As befits an opera heroine, her life between those moments is filled with tragedy and dangerous love: an abusive husband, heartbreaking affairs, and even a temporary loss of voice. Through it all her talent sustains her and carries her forward.
It’s not just that she is an amazing singer; Anna captivates. Whether for a packed opera house or an audience of one man, she creates an emotional connection by giving unreservedly of herself. Ultimately she captures the heart of young, brilliant (and married) Wolfgang Mozart. He, in turn, captures hers with equal parts kindness and genius. Would that it could work out! Mozart is not just her only real friend in the book, family included, but her only equal as well. But after all this is opera, so of course it does not work out. For the happy duration of the affair Mozart steals every scene he’s in, drawn with a light and cheerful hand but not quite the over-the-top giggler of Amadeus.
Shotwell, a singer herself, makes us appreciate the training and technical discipline that goes into an opera performance without ever drifting into pedantry. My only complaints are a couple of tragic instances that seem conveniently rushed over, and do we really need a pronunciation guide for “Marchesi,” “Rauzzini,” and “Anna”? Overall, a strong debut and a nice read that made me wish “Le nozze di Figaro” was playing somewhere in the neighborhood this weekend. Recommended.