Thursday, October 27, 2016

In Memory of Ann "Nancy" Storace, Mozart's Original Susanna, Whose Birthday is Today

Today I'll be traveling to Oklahoma City to the State Capitol for the Wreath of Hope Ceremony to help raise awareness about domestic violence. I'll be placing a rose on the wreath on behalf of my agency and personally in memory of Ann "Nancy" Storace, the 18th century English soprano whose birthday it is today, and who was the subject of my master's thesis as well as the historical fiction novel series I wrote about her life and relationship with Mozart. Nancy was a victim of domestic violence when she was only 18 years old, at the hands of her husband, John Fisher. She was living in Vienna at the time under the
employment of Emperor Joseph II as his "prima buffa" (First Comedienne), in his newly-formed Italian Comic Opera Company. The abuse was so bad, that it kept her off stage and out of performances for weeks at a time. Finally, the Emperor banished Fisher and sent him packing back to England, but not without it leaving permanent and life-altering scars on Nancy.

Historians have treated Nancy's abuse as just a tiny blip on her radar, not putting the subsequent tragedies and events that plagued her for the rest of her life together with her abuse. Shortly after Fisher's banishment, Nancy completely lost her voice for 4 months, and when she finally recovered it, it wasn't the same. Her critics wrote that it had a "raspy, coarse" quality and that it had lost its flexibility. Music that was composed for her, had to be written to accommodate these changes. Several years later, following her return to London, she began to suffer dizziness and fainting spells on stage. Finally she was put to bed and eventually diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. An emergency procedure called "trepanning" by which a quarter-sized hole is opened up into the skull and blood drained from off the brain to release pressure, was performed and she survived, but her life remained in the balance for 3 months following. Her critics then began to complain that she was gaining weight, as well as losing her hair and she soon developed a condition known then as "dropsy" (high blood pressure). We now know that all of these symptoms together - weight gain, loss of hair, and high blood pressure - are symptoms of thyroid disease. Nancy eventually died as a result of a series of "cryptogenic" (meaning origin not known) strokes at the age of 51.

All of the symptoms that I have described above are strong indications that Nancy was not only a victim of domestic violence, but that she had been a victim of near-fatal strangulation, most likely on several occasions. It was so severe that it caused damage and scarring to her larynx, the soft tissues in her throat, to her thyroid gland, as well as permanent damage to her brain which eventually led to her death at the age of 51.

I share Nancy's story because 250 years later, we still don't readily or immediately recognize the symptoms of near-fatal strangulation in victims of domestic violence, and too many later succumb to their affects, sometimes 30 years down the line. Strangulation is found in around 50 percent of all domestic violence cases, and a woman who survives one instance of strangulation is 7 times more likely to be the victim of domestic violence homicide later on. We must do better. We must educate our law enforcement, EMTs, ER physicians, advocates, district attorneys/prosecutors, and jury pools about this most deadly form of domestic violence so that survivors will have a better chance for survival and a better of quality of life, and that the perpetrators of this heinous crime will not go unpunished.

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