Arien für – Arias for Nancy Storace
Marie-Sophie Pollack, soprano
Katharina Ruckgaber, soprano
Academia di Monaco
on periods instruments
Joachim Tschiedel, conductor
Coviello Classics, 2017
Arias for Nancy Storace celebrates one of the most famous sopranos of the 18th century, chiefly remembered to have been the first Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, through ten arias that Storace performed when she was prima buffa in Vienna. Through these rare arias (two of them are world premiere recordings), the listener follows not only the stages of Storace’s career, but retraces the glorious days of Italian opera under Kaiser Joseph II, when composers of the calibre of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Salieri, Vincent Martin y Soler and Giovanni Paisiello premiered their operas on the stages of the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.
In this vivacious but competitive environment, British soprano Nancy Storace, born Ann Selina and sister of the composer Stephen, made her appearance in 1783. Despite her limited vocal means, she was appreciated as «a lively and intelligent actress», with the limitation of «a certain crack and roughness» in her voice and «a deficiency of natural sweetness», as Burney wrote.
Storace (1765-1817) made her debut at the age of eight and sang for the first time at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket the next year. She studied with Antonio Sacchini and Venanzio Rauzzini and, at eleven years-old, she was ready to make her operatic debut as Cupido in Rauzzini’s L’ali d’amore.
A couple of years later she undertook a trip to Italy, both to improve her natural skills and to sing in the opera houses of the peninsula as prima buffa or prima seria in comic operas. It was during the Italian trip that Storace sang for the first time a role specifically composed for her voice, that of Dorina in Giuseppe Sarti’s Fra i due litigant il terzo gode (1782).
In 1783, Storace came to Vienna, where she remained until 1787. She became immediately successful with the first opera she performed, Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi (the recitative and aria Or ei con Ernestina is the first number of Arias for Nancy Storace), making an impression on librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, who remembered: «at the time, she was at the peak of her career and mesmerized the whole of Vienna». During her first year in Vienna, Storace sang in half of the fourteen productions of the Burgtheater and was the highest paid member in the company.
Despite some unlucky events in her private life (the death of her first child and the end of an ill-matched marriage with composer and violinist John Abraham Fisher), in the following years Storace reiterated her successes and created her most important roles, as the one with which her name is more closely associated, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (1786). Her departure from Vienna, which took place only one year later, inspired Mozart to compose the concert aria Ch’io mi scordi di te.
After the Viennese period, Storace often appeared on the stage of the major London theatres and retired in 1808. She died in 1817.
Two sopranos, Marie-Sophie Pollack and Katharina Ruckgaber, perform Storace’s arias, singing five and four arias respectively and the last aria together. It is a little unusual to hear two singers in an album devoted to a single, ancient colleague as it is more common that one singer performs all the arias, but of course this is not an unbreakable rule and Pollack and Ruckgaber share the repertoire with so much naturalness that it would have been a mistake to exclude one of them in favour of the other.
For the personal taste of the author of this post (taste that can be questioned as nothing is more subjective than singing), Ruckgaber has a smoother voice than Pollack, though neither of them is particularly warm, but this can be considered nothing but coherency, if Burnes is reliable. As Storace, Ruckgaber and Pollack have their strong points in the charm of their singing, a charm that does not derive from “immediate” features as tenderness (I still refer to Burnes here), but their musical intuition and the profound understanding of these arias allow them to be perfect for the music composed by Mozart, Salieri, Sarti, Martin y Soler and Stephen Storace and make them admirable, lovely interpreters of the nagging doubts of Or ei con Ernestina (from Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi; Pollack), of the pleasantly disconsolate Ahimè! Dove m’inoltro (from Sarti’s Fra i due litiganti; Ruckgaber), of the resolute D’un dolce amor (from Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio; Ruckgaber), of the tenderly impertinent Son ancora tenerella (from Martin y Soler’s Il burbero di buon cuore; Pollack), not to speak of the delightful Giunse alfin il momento (from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro; Ruckgaber). The final duet and former aria Larala (again from Salieri’s La grotto di Trofonio) is the perfect synthesis, witty and amusing, of the performance of these two fine singers.
Arias for Nancy Storace offers the chance to hear some forgotten (probably with the only exception of Giunse alfin il momento) but beautiful arias, performed by two very good singers as Marie-Sophie Pollack and Katharina Ruckgaber, who preserve intact the pleasant and sophisticated spirit of imperial Vienna.