Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert this week (Wednesday 7th) to mark the bicentenary of Anglo-Italian soprano Nancy Storace (1765–1817). The concert includes significant works composed by Mozart, Haydn, Stephen Storace, Sarti and Salieri, which were associated with her, and arias that will be sung by American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker. Here, Jaquelyn, a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, shares her insight and admiration for Nancy Storace and the works she shall be performing at the concert, as well as her love for cooking a hearty Sunday roast.
What is it about Nancy Storace and her career that you find fascinating?
I’m not sure if fascinating is the word I would use; I admire her much more than I am fascinated by her! It’s funny – throughout this process of learning these works written for Nancy, I feel a bit as though I know her. I think it’s easy to romanticise and historicise amazing musicians – that said, I get such a sense of Nancy’s personality in these works, especially the arias by Mozart and by her brother Stephen. She seems like such a vibrant performer, a singer who loves words and loves being expressive.
Musicologist Lawrence Kramer published extensively about the subjectivity of the Lied (specifically in relation to Schubert’s Lieder), and I believe there is some aspect of this that can also be applied to some Classical works – particularly the works where the conductor likely also performed in the ensemble (as with the pianoforte solo in “Ch’io mi scordi di te”). Kramer discusses the idea of a “lyric ego” that must negotiate and communicate the will and ideas of the composer and his or her music – that the music can be just as expressive as the text. Rather than the music being at the service of the words, there is drama and pathos in the music, too; and, it is in works like Mozart’s concert aria that I find this wonderful musical-textual integration. This is a testament to Mozart’s technical ability and the beauty of da Ponte’s text, to be sure, but I feel that Nancy must have had an intimate understanding of that third subjectivity – of how to communicate the message of the work that is created by this inextricable relationship between music and words. In other words, she must have been so wonderfully sensitive to both music and words in a way that realised the full meaning (and full potential) of these pieces of music. I aspire to have this same sensitivity in my own practice and performance.
Before you knew about the concert programme, were you familiar with the songs and arias you’ll be singing at the concert, such as those composed by Stephen Storace or Haydn?
I am familiar with the works by Mozart, except for the Ofelia setting. I had never studied it, but I knew of the Haydn “Miseri noi” – I am very excited to sing it. Haydn is one of those composers whose writing for soprano slots so perfectly into my voice; it’s difficult, to be sure, and I have to practice it, but it feels exceedingly natural for me to sing. I was not familiar with Stephen Storace’s works, but I am a big, big fan of Gilbert and Sullivan – I think Storace’s aria featured on this concert really channels the effortless comedic air of G&S’s operettas.
Have you sung the role of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro before? If not, would you like to?
I have not, but I’m absolutely dying to! The singing is not so difficult, but I enjoy roles that require a singer to be very physically active and agile; I imagine Susanna is always characterised this way in productions of Le nozze di Figaro, so I’m hoping for a chance to try my hand at her character in the future.
Are there any other sopranos you admire?
Tons. Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger, Anna Moffo, Margaret Price, Dawn Upshaw, Hildegard Behrens, Zinka Milanov, Eleanor Steber, Elisabeth Grümmer, Christine Schäfer… I think their voices are just gorgeous, of course, but primarily for their risk-taking and generosity of expression.
Do you have a favourite opera or favourite composer?
No contest: Wozzeck by Alban Berg. Berg is also my favourite composer. Almost all of my academic work and research during my doctorate was about Berg (or the Second Viennese School, in some capacity). I find his music to be both lyrical (i.e. enjoyable to sing) and challenging (both in terms of characterisation and plot, and in the pristine, meticulous construction of the music), which is a winning combination for me. I also haven’t heard or sung anything by Brahms, Henze, or Haydn that I didn’t enjoy.
Is there any advice you’d give to someone who wants to be a success in the opera industry?
My best advice for a young singer is to learn Italian and German fluently, go to every single concert you can, and listen to a composer’s symphonic and chamber music in addition to his or her vocal works. My best advice for an aspiring opera conductor is to learn Italian and German fluently, learn how to play the piano very well, and play for as many voice lessons as you can.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to run; I spend so much time doing it that it feels like a part-time job! I also adore cooking – especially making some sort of roast for a hearty Sunday dinner. I’ve also been baking bread for a few years: kneading is great stress relief. I adore entertaining and having friends over for drinks and dinner. I just got a library card, so I’m enjoying reading every day while I’m on the Tube. My husband and I have also enjoyed exploring London – the parks are beautiful and the museums (The British Museum, in particular) are absolutely incredible.
Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert on March 7 to celebrate the legendary soprano Nancy Storace. Bampton Classical Opera marks the bicentenary of Nancy’s death with a fascinating concert of music associated with her, including arias sung by sopranos Jacquelyn Stucker, currently a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera, and Rhiannon Llewellyn, who sang the role of the Countess in the company’s production of Salieri’s The School of Jealousy last year. The concert brings together a number of significant works with which Nancy was linked.
Co-promoted by Bampton Classical Opera and St John’s Smith Square
Andrew Griffiths conductor and piano
Tickets: £30, £24, £18. Online: www.sjss.org.uk / St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA