Nancy Storace (1765-1817)

Nancy Storace (1765-1817) was a celebrated English soprano, perhaps most famous for originating the role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Storace—and there is evidently no consensus whether to pronounce her name the English or the Italian way—was in the headlines last year when a long-lost joint composition by Mozart, Salieri, and a Cornetti turned up at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague (Národní muzeum - České muzeum hudby, hudebně-historické oddělení, CZ-Pnm). "Per la recuperata salute di Ophelia" (KV 477a) was jointly written for Storace to celebrate her return to health in 1785.

Before she was a star on stage in Vienna, Storace had been a child prodigy in England and was taught by the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini. At the age of 13, she and her composer brother, Stephen, went to their father's Italian homeland, where she launched her operatic career. While in Italy, the Storace siblings met Michael Kelly, who became a lifelong friend—Kelly frequently mentions Nancy in his Reminiscences. Storace saw Kelly again in Vienna, where she was engaged at the Italian opera and where she performed roles by Mozart, Salierei, and others that were especially written for her. (Storace and Kelly even appear on the same manuscript for Paisiello's Il re Teodoro in Venezia, which premiered in Vienna in 1784). She was so beloved as a singer that her return to the stage in 1785 after a months-long hiatus was indeed a cause for celebration.

After a decade on the continent, Storace went back to England and performed in her brother's operas. It is within this context that Nancy's name appears in the RISM database—as a performer in works by Stephen Storace. Since the 200th anniversary of her death is today, let's turn our eye to music associated with her in RISM.

The best way to see sources where she is named by doing an Advanced search and selecting the field Other names. The manuscript sources for her are mostly in the United Kingdom at the National Library of Wales (GB-AB). The operas in RISM where she is named as a performer include:

  • The Haunted Tower (1789) 
  • No Song, No Supper (1790)
  • The Siege of Belgrade (1791)
  • The Pirates (1792)
  • My Grandmother (1793)
  • The Iron Chest (1796)
  • Mahmoud (1796)

The Haunted Tower was Storace's debut role in English opera. This part of her career intersected once more with that of Michael Kelly, who created many of the roles in Stephen's operas, including The Pirates. Stephen Storace died in 1796, and Nancy and Michael Kelly collaborated to help bring his last opera Mahmoud to the stage. 

The indication Performer in RISM does not only mean "singer." Nancy Storace also danced on occasion. John A. Rice tells us that after a performance of The Siege of Belgrade in 1791, it was reported in the press that "Storace danced her favourite air with much grace—it was encored." This accomplishment as a dancer found its way into the printed minuet from the opera: "The favorite minuet, with variations for the piano forte or harpsichord as danced by Sig|a Storace" (RISM A/I: S 6895).

A sense of Nancy Storace's acclaimed voice that inspired the greatest works of many composers can be gleaned from listening to the music. Here is a lullaby from The Pirates, in a recording sung by Bethany Beardslee:

Image: Anna Selina Storace, attributed to Benjamin Vandergucht. Oil on canvas, circa 1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London. NPG 6148. CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).


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