|This book Nancy Storace, muse de Mozart et de Haydn is the first product of a long and not easy documentary and archival research, lasted various years. The author of the book is entirely dedicated (and with great passion) to the world of opera (with important periods of activity for the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Emmanuelle Pesqué works for the French Ministère de la Culture and is one of the editors of the Internet Opera Magazine ODB-opera.com, and this since 2003) and has developed a major interest in the professional and human journey of the famous 18th century opera singer Nancy Storace, whose life vicissitudes are still, here and there, rather obscure and whose relationships with the great men and women of the 18th century London and Vienna have been, in the past, obfuscated by unsubstantiated speculations of various origin (even by the most revered and venerable Alfred Einstein) and by legends which can’t find any serious support in the primary sources nor in the archival material.|
The intent of this book and of its author is to cast a new light on this important
opera singer (whose professional activity was behind and enlightened the work of
the major composers of that Era, Mozart, Haydn, Salieri, Sarti and Martín y Soler),
to add the results of the modern and the most recent musicological research in this
field to the building of a new more accurate biography (see Link, Lorenz et alii)
and to correct (where and when necessary) previous biographical attempts, like Anna...
Susanna. Anna Storace, Mozart’s first Susanna: Her Life, Times and Family by G.
Brace (London 1991).
A radical chronological approach. (Link)
With Mozart in Vienna... (Link)
... and with Haydn in London. (Link)
The multitudes of the unknown minor composers. (Link)
A generation of opera singers, who were also composers. (Link)
From Fisher to Braham: the unpredictable trails of destiny. (Link)
Which perspectives for the Historically Informed musical practice? Something to ponder. (Link)
A reference book and the Internet on-line resources. (Link)
A radical chronological approach.
The perspective of matter treatment chosen by Pesqué for her book is that of a radical chronological approach, so that the stories and vicissitudes of Anna Selina Nancy Storace and of her brother Stephen and of the other characters around them can be perceived and evaluated in a diachronic context, where one can watch their lives unfold along their existence paths, while they are shaped by their artistic and professional decisions and choices and by the fundamental and intriguing encounters with various figures, many of them, in the end, emerging from the pages of the book as somehow real pivotal sidekick characters across the years, like the singers Rauzzini, Marchesi or Michael Kelly.
A long and laborious research through the pages of the many newspapers of that period (1765-1817) has enabled Pesqué to enrich her work and many valuable passages with the first-hand comments and descriptions of the facts of the world of Opera as they appeared in their original papers, when the events actually occurred: thus many extracts from La Gazzetta Universale, from The Times, from The British Press, from The Monthly Mirror, from The Literary Panorama and from many other newspapers make their appearance and illuminate various actions, concerts, soirées and fragments of life of Nancy Storace, that otherwise would be lost to the darkness of oblivion.
This chronological approach to the subject offers the reader many other advantages, first of all the curious and rather rare possibility of considering the evolution of a person’s life (Nancy Storace) as the gradual evolution of an individual within a systemic environment which lives and changes with that person. So the evolution of Nancy Storace as a person and as a professional singer makes its way across history, also through the many political upheavals of the nations (from the France of the Ancien Régime to the French Revolution and the Bonaparte family, being the brother of Napoleon, Jérôme, a personal friend of Braham, with Storace now trying to work in Paris with Marie Antoinette in 1787, then singing in England the lament on her assassination in 1793 and finally, firstly, singing for the Revolution in Paris in 1797 and then again in England commemorating the death of Nelson, the defeater of Napoleon, in November 1805), through the development of the public institutions (the history of the Vienna and London main Opera Theatres and the wars over the control of theatre productions and over the singers’ salaries and wages) and through the many changes of taste of the public in art and music and much more.
With Mozart in Vienna...
Thanks to such particular structure, the admirers of Mozart’s works and the musicians devoted to Mozart will find in this book the possibility of looking at and considering well known episodes of the life of Mozart through a totally different point of view. So we may say that we have, on Mozart, an interesting change in the type of angle of visualization on a few events of his life (most of them occurred in Vienna between 1784 and 1786 for Le Nozze di Figaro, with Storace as an unforgettable first Susanna and then the concert of Les Adieux to Vienna with Mozart at the piano and Storace singing, on 23 February 1787, Ch’io mi scordi di te KV. 505, especially written by Mozart for her), a changed angle of visualization, which may really help in a better comprehension of certain passages of the life of Mozart.
Many figures, already well known because one finds them in Mozart’s biographies, make their appearance also here, but under a new light, since now they are people around Nancy Storace and, because of that, seen not in the light of Mozart, but in their everyday environmental context: the life and business of Opera Theatre from late 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century.
Therefore all this offers the reader an important glimpse at the real extra-long professional career of great opera singers like Venanzio Rauzzini, the famous castrato for whom Mozart wrote one of his masterpieces, the Exsultate, jubilate K. 165, the teacher of Nancy Storace, Michael Kelly and John Braham, the vocal coach and friend of Gertrud Mara, or the unforgettable Luigi Marchesi, the long time collaborator of Myslivecek, one of the teachers/friends of Mozart.
And the same must be said of the whole family Linley (the young Tommasino of Mozart’s biographies, Mozart met in Florence, his father Thomas the elder and especially the sister of Tommasino the singer Elizabeth Ann Linley Sheridan), with its profound connections with the Bath circles of culture and music and so with Rauzzini and the Storaces.
And the same must be said of many other famous Mozartian personages like the composers Sarti, Cherubini, Salieri, Paisiello, Cimarosa, Pleyel and especially Martín y Soler, Stephen Storace, Thomas Attwood, the singers Michael Kelly, Benucci, Bussani and the Mozartian poet par excellence Da Ponte, now depicted out of his Vienna environment (he was obliged to leave in 1791), trying to organize Opera Companies and new Opera dramas between Bruxelles and London with the possible help of the Storaces and then of Martín y Soler.
A special mention here goes to the episode of Mozart’s engagement for the London Italian Opera Theatre, the details of which are usually rather scarce in Mozart’s biographies. We learn now how a London consortium led by Robert Bray O’Reilly at the head of the Pantheon Opera Theatre and representing a group of high English aristocrats (the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Bedford, the Marquess of Salisbury), in 1790, tries to engage Nancy Storace for some new Italian Operas in London to be written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We know how Mozart, de facto, refused such proposals mainly to respect his 1787 agreement with the Vienna Imperial Court and also to avoid a direct rivalry in London with his friend Joseph Haydn, who was going to reach England for his famous First Tour (and probably Mozart was contacted also by Gallini and Salomon, before Haydn’s approval of the entire London project). However, the whole story of the destiny of the Pantheon Theatre led by O’Reilly, as recounted by Emmanuelle Pesqué, certainly casts some new and interesting light on the decisions of Mozart, and, after all (after the refusal of the proposals brought forward by the letter of O’Reilly of 26 October 1790, and after considering the total disaster, also financial, of the whole Pantheon Theatre Project in 1792), probably Mozart was right in refusing…
... and with Haydn in London.
What has been said for Mozart on the change in the point of view, must be said also for Haydn, even though on a lesser scale, since the friendly relationship between Storace and Haydn in Vienna had a substantial minor professional involvement (i.e. fundamentally Il Ritorno di Tobia on 28 and 30 April 1784). A major professional relation between Storace and Haydn occurred, instead, during the First London Tour of Haydn, with the active participation of the soprano at the famous Salomon-Haydn Series of concerts and then at the Haydnian festivities for his Doctoral degree received from the University of Oxford (July 1791, see The Gentleman’s Magazine and The Morning Herald).
The multitudes of the unknown minor composers.
Another peculiar and notable result of this approach used by Pesqué is the re-surfacing of a multitude of unknown minor composers positioned, with their operas, within their correct historical context.
These minor composers, particularly in the 18th century, were, in reality, the fundamental backbone of the Theatre Houses both in continental Europe and in England and many famous singers of that period, like Storace, Kelly and Braham etc., in various occasions, owed them a lot: the success of their careers, especially at the beginning, a wide spread notoriety through vocal scores rapidly available and even odd opera pastiches, which the public liked very much and paid for.
We remember here Basili, Moneta, Nasolini, Nicolini, Gnecco, Mayr, Isola, Zingarelli, Bianchi, Mazzinghi, Reeve, Moorehead, Davy, Corri and many others, who now are just names, but who built, with their minor works, the theatrical good fortune and success of the great opera singers of the 18th and of the 19th century.
A generation of opera singers, who were also composers.
One aspect of the actual musical practice of the 18th century that may really impress both the scholars and the amateurs and the modern musicians and singers is the fairly good level of technical preparation in music composition, which characterized many opera singers of that Era.
One certainly remember the famous conversation between Michael Kelly and Mozart on this subject and how Mozart defined this particular category of composers, more or less, the melodists.
It is a fact that from the pages of this book, we discover how various opera singers, of the 18th century, like the great Rauzzini himself, were capable of composing music, writing arias, organizing an entire opera and treating the orchestration.
Not only the opera singer Michael Kelly was able to write music for himself and to compose entire operas, but, according to some source of that period, in 1796 he and his lifelong friend Nancy Storace managed to complete, in London, an entire opera left unfinished by the brother of Nancy, Stephen. So it seems that even Nancy Storace was a sufficiently good connoisseur of music composition and of its rules to help Michael Kelly in his work!
A particular situation was that of John Braham, who, through his entire life, mostly wrote by himself the music he was going to perform in public and left at least seven operas intentionally written for himself and for Nancy Storace (1802-1808), his mate in everyday life, but never his wife.
However it must be said that, in many occasions, such operas written by the melodists certainly enormously pleased the enthusiastic public and were a good bargain, in terms of money, but, on the other hand, showed clear signs of re-working and re-organizing music materials, ideas and fragments derived from great first-rate composers, like Mozart, Haydn, Paisiello, Sarti, etc. without openly declaring it... and sometimes even the newspapers of that period, usually vague on this subject, noticed that.
Along with the popular successes of these types of operas or opera-pastiches, the book by Pesqué well documents the incredibly slow path that led to the premieres of the most famous Mozart’s operas in England at the beginning of the 19th century. The first complete version of Le Nozze di Figaro (1786) premiered in London only in June 1812 after ten years from one of the first concerts there with fragments from Le Nozze di Figaro and Idomeneo (1802). And the years 1811 and 1812 are fundamental for a first wider diffusion of Mozart’s music in London, after so many years of concerts performing mostly only segments and re-worked and re-written pieces. In May 1811 we have the performance of Così Fan Tutte and in March 1812 La Clemenza di Tito (which premiered in 1806): so Mozart’s music in England is now finally well established in 1810s.
From Fisher to Braham: the unpredictable trails of destiny.
A fundamental part of this book is dedicated to the two major male figures and love interests of Nancy Storace: John Abraham Fisher and John Braham.
The complicated and in many ways still mysterious affair and marriage with the violinist and composer John Abraham Fisher (Vienna, March 1784 and ended a few months later by personal act and will of the emperor Joseph II) is treated by Pesqué with the addition of new important updated information on the subject.
Behind this unhappy marriage, we may see even various possible mistakes made by Nancy Storace in her relationship with Fisher, mistakes which may have led her husband to the well known unacceptable behaviour, among them the suspect induced by her acts of an adulterine relation with the opera singer Benucci. Besides the possible real responsibilities of J.A.Fisher (ca. 40 years old) in ill-treating Nancy Storace (18 years old), the brother of the soprano, Stephen Storace, considered the marriage of his sister a «ridiculous marriage» (June 1785, while in conversation with Orsini-Rosenberg) and declared that his sister is a «testarda» (stubborn or even mulish) and that that caused the disaster in her marriage.
Thanks also to the results of the archival works carried on by notable scholars such as Dorothea Link and Michael Lorenz, Emmanuelle Pesqué has finally had the possibility of giving a new and detailed account on the birth and death of Josepha Fisher (b. 30 January 1785 - d.17 July 1785), putting an end to other various forms of speculations on this matter.
The importance of this period (1784-1785: the unhappy marriage and the death of her daughter) in the life of Nancy Storace is curiously determined not by the facts themselves, but by the incredible effects that such personal vicissitudes of Storace had on the life and on the artistic development of Mozart himself.
Mozart’s unfinished opera Lo sposo deluso K. 430 was especially designed by Mozart (between March and Autumn 1784) and by an unknown librettist to be performed by Nancy Storace (then called Fisher, i.e. Sig.ra fischer [sic! by Mozart], according to her new surname as married woman) as soprano. The most interesting thing about this otherwise still mysterious work is the title itself, which has certainly some connection with Gli sposi malcontenti by the composer Stephen Storace, brother of Nancy, an opera which premiered in Vienna on 1 June 1785 with Nancy as leading character. The opera written by Stephen Storace had an obvious open connection with the publicly notorious unhappy marriage of Nancy with Fisher in 1784, so one may wonder whether within the Vienna Imperial Court some manoeuvres were already underway in 1784 in order to have finally an Italian Opera composed by Mozart and that the possibility of covering up a budding Imperial Court scandal, such as the ill-fated marriage of Nancy, by spoofing it through a public comic opera might have been a good service to the emperor Joseph II and the Imperial Court.
Was it Da Ponte, who was manoeuvring in favour of Mozart?
We can’t say at the present state of the archival and documentary sources, however it is a fact that, curiously enough, in 1785 Mozart, even though he had not produced any Italian opera in Vienna yet and Le Nozze di Figaro had to premiere only in May 1786, was called to compose a brief Cantata written by Da Ponte himself in honour of Nancy Storace: Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia K. 477a. As is well known, this cantata (composed in collaboration with Salieri and a mysterious Cornetti and considered lost until November 2015, when the original score re-surfaced from the archives of Prague) was written by Da Ponte to celebrate the newly recovered health of Nancy Storace, who had to face, between June and September 1785, various personal dramatic moments, like the failure of her voice during a performance at Opera and the death of her daughter Josepha in July.
The long relation (both professional and sentimental) with the singer and composer John Braham is accurately treated in details from page 233 to 351, leading the reader into a kaleidoscopic world of those many personages, who, from the 1790s to 1820s, were the main characters of the theatre of the world: from Nelson to Lady Hamilton, from the English Royal family to Lord Byron, from the Bonaparte family and the French Revolution to J.M.W. Turner and John Ruskin, etc. Among the many intriguing episodes of this period a special mention must be made of two particularly interesting sections of Pesqué’s book: the European and Italian Tour of Nancy and Braham (1797-1801), which well reconstructs the panorama of Opera in France, in Italy and in Germany in the much troubled years of the French Revolution and of the first Napoleonic Wars and the intricate scandal of the affair of Braham with the wife of Henry Wright and the abandonment of Nancy Storace in 1816, a scandal which may have led, in the end, through an incredible twist of history, to a major role of the firm Jardine, Matheson & Co. in the First Opium War (1839-1842).
Which perspectives for the Historically Informed musical practice? Something to ponder.
All those interested in the Historically Informed musical practice will find, in the narration and in the structure of this book, a fundamental motive of further reflection on what we consider philological or not in musical practice.
As Pesqué has largely demonstrated with her book, most of the success of these very well paid opera singers of 18th and 19th century was based, in reality, on versions of the operas, which, in many cases, had nothing to do with the original versions penned by the composers.
The rewriting of arias and sections of the operas and literally plenty of insertion numbers (i.e. arias etc.) written sometimes by another group of three or four different music composers, who had nothing to do with the first original composer, created an Opera Theatre business, regularly fed by operas which were, in reality, big pastiches, which sometimes retained, of the original concept of the first author, almost only the main title of the opera.
Hence, in conclusion, if in the 21st century we’d like to produce an Historically Informed reconstruction of an 18th century opera, which version we should consider really philological? The original one written by the first composer or the pastiche version with its great amount of insertion numbers, which was heartily welcomed by the audiences?
Certainly it’s something to ponder…
… and we are not touching here the delicate aspect of interpretation, since evidently, according to the original sources of that Era, in the 18th century there was a strong appeal towards a rather expressionist way of acting and performing (and it seems that part of the theatrical good fortune of Nancy Storace was also due to her special cheeky way of singing, dancing and, so to say, playing on the stage: what a magnificent Susanna!) and to what we may call, in modern terms, towards over-interpretation, whereas the modern music schools have a not always too acceptable interest rather in toned-down or even shabby interpretations (under-interpretation?), as if music may only mechanically exist, like an anonymous depersonalized entity (but beware of the famous ominous musicus mechanicus, as Mozart wrote in his letters!).
A reference book and the Internet on-line resources.
The book on Nancy Storace by Emmanuelle Pesqué is a book characterized by a beautiful and fluid readability. So, despite the accuracy and the many details, the book itself can be easily read as an intriguing novel.
Nonetheless, the Avant-propos, the first chapters of the book devoted to the origin of the family of Nancy Storace and to the flourishing music and entertainment business (e.g. the Pleasure Gardens) that this family manages to establish in London between 1740s and 1770s, the final chapters on the portraits of Nancy Storace and on Nancy Storace as a character of various fictional productions and the technical section at the end of book (the collection of rare images, the extremely detailed chronology of her theatrical career divided per seasons, the important collection of titles and synopses of extremely rare and now almost neglected English Operas written for Nancy Storace, the updated and extremely detailed bibliography and the discography) confer on the book by Pesqué also the status of an interesting and valuable Reference Book on the history of Opera Theatre between London and Vienna.
The Internet site run by the author of the book herself (annselinanancystorace.blogspot.com) further enrich the experience of this book with other updates and rare materials.
S. & L.M. Jennarelli