So his female fans, and we are legion, will want to embrace
"Imagines" is the right word, because although people have whispered over the centuries, there is no proof they were involved. Most of the speculation centers on a concert aria
Shotwell, who studied creative writing as well as classical singing, learned to sing the aria and was fascinated. I was fascinated, too, when I began to read her book. It is rare to find a writer who knows classical music enough to write about it this well. She has a beautiful way of describing what is in an opera singer's head.
Even before she began to sing she felt the change in the hall like a great warm wave. She pretended to take some snuff. Somebody laughed. Then they were all laughing. She had them," goes one passage, describing Anna's breakthrough performance as a teenager in a comic role. She describes Anna finishing her aria "up and up by semitones in leaping octaves, all the way to the high C, a great victorious scream, as if the top of her head had popped open and light was shooting from the middle of her forehead, and it was the feeling that counted, of being a hollow body full of rushing air, empty and full all at the same time..."
That was fun!
Shotwell shows a solid knowledge of singing conventions at the time, as well as the backstage doings of 18th century opera houses. There is a sense of suspense as the teenage Anna negotiates this thorny world, and falls into a disastrous romance with her co-star, the celebrated but ultimately noncommital Benucci. They star in an opera as two lovers who are united. For every performance they are wedged together in a kind of closed compartment, descending onto the stage.
Benucci breaks her heart, but that romance is fun while it lasts, and Shotwell recounts it deliriously: "Almost every other night, for more than a month, they could step into that lifted space and for five or 10 minutes be alone together again, alone in their secret, before the door would slide open and they would come forward, flushed and laughing, to general applause, to sing their last number and be married for the hundredth, the five hundredth, time, just as all lovers dreamed."
You can't wait for the moment when Anna's path crosses
Shotwell sets it in a garden, like the finale of "The Marriage of Figaro." Anna flees a party one night to go out and get some air, and she takes her shoes off, and -- well, I don't want to give it away. Let's just leave it that
The romantic nature of the meeting made me think of the 19th century novella "
Enjoyable as parts of the book are, though, it becomes dull. In a depressing and humorless narrative, Storace struggles through a horrible marriage, a miscarriage and other troubles. There is a gratuitous chapter devoted to a grisly execution. Meanwhile, whole chapters pass without much about
The scene where Anna and
The book also has structural problems that make it hard to suspend disbelief. Shotwell imposes modern sensibilities on
There's one more problem I have to mention. Forgive me, because it's not Shotwell's fault.
That is the concert aria that inspired the book. It's just not that great. It's by
It's too bad, because Shotwell's writing can sing. She can write well about music, and hardly anyone can. With luck this book will prove to be just a rehearsal, and she'll go on to write something else.
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