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Storace, Ann Selina

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Ann (or Anna) Storace, known as Nancy, was born on 27 October 1765 in London, the daughter of Stefano (or Stephen) Storace, an Italian musician who had come from Naples to England as early as 1747. Her mother was Elizabeth Trusler, the daughter of the proprietor of Marylebone Gardens, one of London’s musical pleasure gardens; she married Storace in 1761, when Stephen was director of the band there. In this musical family also was Nancy’s brother Stephen, who became a composer and conductor. Nancy received her initial musical training from her father and then from Sacchini and Rauzzini, two of the best Italian musicians in England. Nancy may have made her first public appearance as a singer in Southampton in August 1773, and the two youthful Storaces were at the Salisbury music festival in October, Nancy singing and Stephen playing the violin to responsive audiences and critics. The next year she sang at the Haymarket Theatre in London, and in 1777 she is known to have participated in the oratorios at Covent Garden and taken the role of Cupido in Rauzzini’s "L’ali d’amore" at the King’s Theatre. She made appearances in Brighton and at the Hereford Three Choirs Festival and, in 1778, was in London again before heading off to Naples with her parents. Her stay on the Continent lasted nine years and saw her in Naples, Florence, Leghorn, Parma, Milan, and, in 1783, Vienna, where the family stayed for four years. Nancy was not yet twenty, but her singing in Italy and Austria was attracting audiences and gaining her a good press: one Vienna critic was quite taken with her: ‘She united in her person, like none other alive, and only a few singers of the past, all the gifts of nature, education, and technique which one may desire for performance in Italian comic opera.’ And under the noses of her parents in 1783 the eighteen-year-old found herself an English husband in Vienna, the musician John Abraham Fisher. Her choice was a disaster, and the marriage quickly fell apart. When the Emperor Joseph II heard how badly Fisher treated his wife, he threw Fisher out of Austria. Meanwhile, close to hand was Mozart, with whom she had what was apparently a platonic relationship. He dashed off some vocal works for her and cast her as Susanna in "Le Nozze di Figaro" in 1786. She was just 21. Nancy and her brother were engaged at the King’s Theatre back in London in the spring of 1787. On 24 April she made her reappearance in London, singing Gelinda in "Gli schiavi per amore", produced by her brother. Considering her considerable reputation in Vienna and the fact that composers of stature there had been, as Mozart was, much taken with her voice, Nancy’s reception back in London was not warm. Dr Burney, for example, thought her voice had ‘a certain crack and toughness’ that made it less than ideal for a serious singer. According to Stephen Storace, the Italians in London, including the composer Cherubini, believed that anyone not born in Italy could not be a singer. On 24 November 1789 at Drury Lane she was Adela in the première of Cobb’s "The Haunted Tower" (G0779), which received 56 performances that season; Nancy was paid £10 per night and established herself as one of London’s favourite singers. Though she did not abandon Italian opera, the rest of her career was devoted chiefly to popular musical theatre pieces like "No Song No Supper", "The Cherokee", "The Duenna", "The Spanish Barber", "Mahmoud" and "The Iron Chest". What she had, in addition to a charming voice, was an ‘enchanting vivacity’ – friskiness, the "Public Advertiser" called it – that more than made up for her plain features and awkward stage movement. She was sometimes arrogant in her behaviour, however; in 1794 she refused to perform for their majesties at Buckingham Palace, saying she was ‘better engaged.’ Nancy did not marry again after the disintegration of her relationship with Fisher, but in the 1790s she fell in love with the singer John Braham, 12 years her junior, and
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