Saturday, June 5, 2010

People: Nancy's brother, Stephen Storace, Part I: Early Career & Vienna

There were very few, if any men in Nancy's life with whom she was more close than with her brother, Stephen. Stephen was born in London in the parish of St. Marylebone on April 4th, 1762. His father, Stephano, who met the Mozarts when they traveled to England in 1764-65, was impressed with the manner in which Leopold Mozart was educating his two young musical prodigies, Wolfgang and Nannerl, and decided to educate Stephen (and later Nancy), in the same manner. He gave Stephen instruction in the violin, harmony, composition, and keyboard and then later, as he mistrusted the quality of musical instruction available in London, he sent Stephen to Naples, to study at his alma mater, the Conservatorio di Sant' Onofrio when Stephen was around twelve years old. While in Naples, Stephen met the Welsh artist/painter, Thomas Jones and neglected his musical studies to go on several expeditions with him throughout Italy. While traveling with Jones, Stephen got himself into some mischief  that prompted Stephano to make the decision to travel back to Italy, along with then twelve-year-old Nancy (who was already an up-and-coming starlet on the musical stage), and his wife Elizabeth. He hoped to launch Nancy's stage career as well as bring his son back into line. It was while the entire Storace family was in Italy (sometime in 1780 or 1781), that Stephano Storace passed away and was buried in his hometown of Naples. Some months later, Stephen decided to return to England (most likely to settle his father's affairs there and perhaps to escape the nagging of his mother), and left his sister, Nancy, and mother in Italy to continue the promotion of Nancy's stage career.

In the fall of 1783, Nancy was summoned to Vienna, the capital of Austria, and the seat of the then Holy Roman Empire, by Emperor Joseph II, to serve as the prima buffa (first comedienne), of His Majesty's newly-formed Italian Opera company. Nancy arrived in Vienna with her mother, Elizabeth, in January of 1784 and was an immediate success. However, she ran into some personal turmoil when Elizabeth (most likely prompted by her desire to return home to England), arranged a marriage between Nancy and the English violinist/composer, John Abraham Fisher, who was in Vienna on sabbatical from Oxford University. Fisher was monstrously cruel to Nancy and beat her mercilessly, prompting the Emperor to banish Fisher from the city. Fisher left Vienna and returned to England sometime in the early fall of 1784 and Stephen, prompted by a commission from the Emperor for an opera in Italian (most likely obtained by Nancy), came to Vienna sometime in December of that same year. It was during this time that he may have begun to study with Mozart, who became a great influence on his musical composition, as well as a good friend, from that point on.

(The following is a large section that I rewrote and edited extensively for the Wikipedia article on Stephen Storace.)

Stephen produced his first opera, Gli Sposi malcontenti, at Vienna, on 1 June, 1785. The premiere, however, was marred by further scandal involving his sister, who was singing the prima buffa role - she collapsed on-stage in mid-aria, causing the performance to be abandoned. Nancy was pregnant during the premiere of the opera and gave birth to a baby girl a few weeks later. The child was given to a foundling home by Elizabeth Storace, who claimed that it belonged to Nancy's estranged husband, John Fisher, who had been banished by the Emperor some months earlier for beating Nancy. Elizabeth Storace claimed that they didn't care if the child lived or died. The child died in the foundling home a month after she was born. Nancy's return to the stage four months later, was marked by the performance of the Cantata per la ricuperata di Ophelia, composed specially for the occasion by a trio of composers - Mozart, Salieri, and the unknown "Cornetti" (which may have been a pen-name for Stephen). Sadly this rare example of a Mozart-Salieri collaboration has been entirely lost. In Vienna, the Storaces made the acquaintance of Mozart, in whose Le nozze di Figaro Nancy sang Susanna at the premiere, and Kelly sang Don Curzio. The "English circle" in Vienna also included the composer Thomas Attwood. In Vienna Stephen produced a second opera, Gli equivoci, founded on Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.

There is no clear explanation why the Storaces abandoned Vienna at the height of their success there. The reasons are suggested to be more personal than professional. Certainly the Emperor spoke of her with great admiration, even using her abilities as an arbitrary unit of currency - "I'd not give you a Storace for it!". Quite possibly Nancy was under pressure from Elizabeth, who was not at all happy in Vienna, and wished to return to England with both of her children in tow. Nancy left Vienna in February of 1787, along with her "entourage" of Michael Kelly, her brother, and Thomas Attwood. Buoyed-up by their success on the Viennese stage, the coach-party which left for London could not have imagined they would find themselves rejected and unwanted in there, where their names were quite forgotten after such a long absence. Stephen was remembered - if at all - as an infant prodigy violinist at Vauxhall Gardens, and found it very hard to secure paying work without the cherubic charm of youth behind him, and moreover as an unknown composer.

The following, from Stephen's opera The Doctor and the Apothecary, was composed for Nancy in the spring of 1787, shortly after their return from Vienna to London. It clearly shows a strong Mozart influence.

Part II, tomorrow!

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