Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nancy Storace

Hello All!

So I promised that I would write about some of my findings from this year. Currently the focus of my attention is on my dissertation; so I will start by telling you about a singer in particular who I have been researching.
Anna Selina Storace aka Nancy Storace (27 October 1766 in London – 24 August 1817 in London) was an English operatic singer born of Italian descent. Her father, Stefano Storace was native to Torre Annunziata near Naples and was a famous cellist. Nancy became a very successful prima donne in the eighteenth century and was the first soprano to premier the role of Susannah in Le Nozze di Figaro by W. A. Mozart. 
The reason I have chosen to explore Nancy Storace in particular is because she premiered the incredibly difficult role of Susannah at the age of 19. This got me could Nancy sing this role at 19 when, today, opera singers are only beginning serious vocal training? I thought, 'perhaps this was her first role and Mozart was merely giving her a shot, as it were'. What I found was the complete opposite. Nancy was at the height of her career and one of the most popular prima donnas in Italy a this time. What I found most interesting was that Nancy had made her public debut at 8 years old and her operatic debut at 11 years old!!!
How can this be? Opera singers today and reminded again and again: 'wait until your voice is mature before training', 'only sing what your voice is capable of', 'you are way to young to be thinking of singing opera!' are just a view anecdotes of what singers of the 21st century may have been told. 
So perhaps Nancy is the exception to the rule? Once again, what I uncovered was that many opera singers debuted incredibly young and most of them were still teenagers when they sang some quite challenging roles. Anna Gottlieb, for example, premiered Pamina from Die Zauberflote at the age of 17.
Why? Why were they so young? Why do 21st century opera singers have to be older? Well, this is what I am researching. Anyway, back to Nancy...
Nancy had an older brother, Stephen who was also a musician. However, he went on to become a composer of opera buffa, mainly writing for his sister. He too is said to have made a very early public debut. The reason for both children being able to make successful early public debuts was largely because their father trained them in music making from a very young age. They were brought up to perform to a very high standard and this laid a foundation of musical knowledge that benefited the to children in their future careers. After Nancy's operatic debut in Venanzio Rauzzini's L'ali D'amour she continued giving public concerts around England until her family returned to Italy, where her brother continued his musical training in a music academy in Naples. Nancy also continued her musical training, but with private teachers: Antonio Sacchini, an opera composer and castrato Venanzio Rauzzini. It was not uncommon for singers to continue their training while also maintaining a career. However, they would not be thought of as 'still in training' and their further training was called 'finishing'. This 'finishing' also did not have to be maintained regularly or over a long period of  time. 
In Italy, Nancy continued her career, first singing minor roles and then progressing to major roles. However, Nancy aspired to be an opera seria singer as they were far better regarded than opera buffa singers. This is reflected in her early roles; even when singing opera buffa, Nancy wanted to sing at least one serious opera aria to show her versatility to perform serious roles. (Similar to a rom-com actress wanting to do an epic romantic role to prove her capability) but there has been some debate about her ability to perform these large serious roles. Historic accounts of her voice suggest that their was a 'roughness' or 'huskiness', even in her younger years that seem to grow progressively worse as the years went on. This 'huskiness' is perhaps part of the reason Nancy retired in her early 50s. However, her musical knowledge allowed Nancy to be a very skilled musician, so many of the arias written for her are extremely difficult. Perhaps her musicality was up to the job of opera seria singer, but her voice was not! In saying that, Nancy catered her career to performing opera buffa and maintained this career for thirty-five years! There is also an argument that her early retirement was due to her early debut; on the other hand, I would argue Nancy did not retire early. Like I said she had been singing for thirty-five years and though in her final years her voice really wasn't up to the standard it had been in the past, it had been well used. Nancy also did not have an easy life!
She was married at the age of 17 to John Abraham Fisher who was three times her age. It is thought the match was made by Nancy's mother in an attempt to allow her daughter to maintain a singing career without scandal but also that Fisher would not want to have children with Nancy as her already had many with his previous wife. Unfortunately, Nancy was not spared the inconvenience of pregnancy and the marriage was abusive and violent. Nancy appealed to the Emperor of Vienna who financed the opera company Nancy sang for to send Fisher away, which he did. Fisher left without quarrel, but Nancy was pregnant and continuing to perform. She lost her voice during a production of her brother's opera Gli sposi malcontenti but at that point she was eight months pregnant. She gave birth a month later, but the child died soon after. Nancy returned to the stage five months later, though not quite fully recovered. Mozart rewrote some of the runs for Susannah at a lower pitch to help Nancy through her performance.
Nancy returned to England in 1787 and performed many operas in King's Theater. She also engaged in a relationship with tenor John Braham. They toured Europe together in the early nineteenth century only returning when Nancy found she was pregnant with their son; William Spencer Harris Braham. William was born in 1802 and Nancy officially retired from the six years later in 1808. Braham and Nancy continued their relationship, but they never got married. In 1815, the relationship ended, which is one of the reasons given for Nancy's sudden death in 1817. It is thought she was heartbroken after the break-up and never recovered.
Nancy's life is fascinating: from child prodigy to prima donna to the failure of her voice, her life is filled with issues, problems, highs and lows just the same as opera singers today. Today; however, it can be easy to self-diagnose vocal problems as vocal misuse, when obviously the stresses and strains of life can also attribute. Nancy's life is indicative of a singer getting knocked back, picking herself up and maintaining a career!

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