Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stephen Storace, Part II

(This post is continued from June 5th, 2010.)

Both Nancy and Stephen found temporary work at the King's Theatre in London, but they found the atmosphere there inhospitable to them due to a group of native Italian musicians who were already well-established there. Nancy had returned to London with what she believed to be a secure agreement with Emperor Joseph to return to Vienna for the 1788/89 season, with the opportunity, perhaps, to extend her contract there for another four years. However, due to the escalations with Austria's war with Turkey, the contract fell through over a cut in her salary. She was offered half the salary she had been making when she left Vienna, so she politely refused. They both finally moved in 1789 to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which at this time was under the management of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. They were also heavily involved in working towards a commission for Mozart to come to London to compose and direct some Italian comic operas, as Mozart had expressed a strong desire to come with them to England when they returned in early 1787. His plans to return with them were thwarted, however, due to a series of tragic and unfortunate events, including the death of one child, as well as his father's refusal to care for his older, remaining son, Karl. And although they were eventually successful in obtaining a commission for Mozart, which was delivered to him in late 1790, he was unable to accept it. He died only a year later.

Stephen found his first big success at Drury Lane with an operetta (in the style of the German Singspieler with music and spoken dialouge), in the new "romantic" style of ghost-stories, gothic horror, and romance entitled, The Haunted Tower. It was a box-office sensation, selling-out for 50 nights in succession. No little part of the success was the performance of Michael Kelly in the male lead role. Up to this time, high notes in the male parts in the theatre had been crooned falsetto by performers who were more actors than singers. Kelly's aria to the ghost of the Haunted Tower - "Spirit Of My Sainted Sire!" included a top Bb which he took in full voice in the Italian style, and proved such a success that at most performances it was encored in full. This aria outlived the rest of Storace's output by decades, and was still being reprinted in parlour songbook anthologies for the amateur tenor a century later.

His next big success was with another operetta entitled No Song, no supper, which again, starred the Irish tenor, Michael Kelly, along with his sister, Nancy. No song became even more successful than The Haunted Tower, outselling it by almost double, and was the opera that closed both the careers of Michael Kelly and Nancy Storace on the same night in 1808.

1792 saw Storace produce the boldest of his operatic projects, Dido, Queen Of Carthage, with a libretto by Prince Hoare after Metastasio's Didone abbandonata. This was the only all-sung opera Storace produced in English - all his other works had spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. His sister regarded it as Stephen's finest work. However, for whatever reason, the piece proved unpopular with the public, and was withdrawn after a short run. The music was not thought worth printing commercially, with the result that not a note of this opera now survives, nor were any solo numbers from it printed separately.

Storace's final work was Mahmoud, Prince of Persia, but he never saw the premiere. He caught cold at rehearsals for "The Iron Chest", and died on the 15th or 16th of March 1796. Nancy Storace organised that the unfinished work was completed (Kelly claims to have had a hand in doing so, but it is more likely that he paid other hands to do it, since he freely admitted he couldn't read the bass clef. Most likely the work was finished and orchestrated by the Orchestra Leader, John Shaw, who was Kelly's collaborator on all his later projects). The work was given as a Benefit Performance for Storace's widow. "Mahmoud" survives, but it is clear that the completed version was very makeshift.

Although Storace's works were popular in their time, their failure to endure in performance is in part due to the financial caution of his employer, Sheridan. A legendarily shrewd man with money, Sheridan refused to allow any copies of the Storace's works to be circulated, for fear of pirate versions being performed from which no royalties would be paid. In fact history shows that Sheridan's best attempts failed, and pirated versions of Storace's works were playing in New York by the end of the century. However, it is assumed that the carefully-guarded scores and parts perished in the Drury Lane Theatre Fire. Only one opera survives complete in score and parts - "No Song, No Supper" (published in Musica Britannica editions, edited by Roger Fiske). The other works survive only in piano + voice vocal scores issued by Storace's publishers, Longman & Broderip. (A number of these scores were reprinted by Kalmus Edition in the 1970s in the USA, but all have been deleted and no details are available from Kalmus). The surviving vocal scores have clearly been prepared by an expert hand, and are extensively "cued" with the orchestral parts in smaller notes - it seems possible that Storace himself, or one of his closer assistants, must have prepared these vocal scores. There are, to date, no commercially-available recordings of any of Storace's operas. Storace is not known to have written any exclusively instrumental music, other than the overtures for his operas.

The character of Storace's music is preeminently English; but his early intercourse with Mozart gave him an immense advantage over his contemporaries in his management of the orchestra, while for the excellence of his writing for the voice he was no doubt indebted to the vocalization of his sister Ann (Nancy) Storace.

It is because of the works of Stephen Storace that we have what is known today as the Broadway Musical, for as the German Singspieler, made popular by Storace in England, gave way to the English operetta, greatly popularized by the late 19th century team of Gilbert & Sullivan, it made it's way to the United States, primarily to the New York Theater district where it evolved into the Broadway musical style.

The following is a soprano/tenor duet composed by Stephen Storace, most likely sung by his sister Nancy, and the Irish tenor Michael Kelly.