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La Scala Ballet's Gala Fracci. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

Celebrating Carla Fracci

La Scala Ballet pays tribute to the prima ballerina assoluta

The first edition of the “Gala Fracci,” an initiative of ballet director Manuel Legris, took place at La Scala as a commemorative evening. In her beloved theatre our prima ballerina assoluta was raised but was refused as a ballet director. The calling for a series of masterclasses on “Giselle” just before her death and this very sincere Gala has healed past wounds. In a packed house, Beppe Menegatti, Fracci’s husband, was missing, due to illness or maybe to the fear to be overwhelmed by emotions. A pity, as he was the Pygmalion of the ballerina’s extraordinary career, well retraced by the beautiful program, alternating excerpts from Fracci’s repertoire and rare ballets. On the backdrop, photographs of her in some of the more than 200 ballets of her career, were applauded as Carla Fracci in person was there.

It was a symbolic choice to open with “Giselle,” Fracci’s signature ballet, showing the Willi’s suite without a dancer playing the main character, not even La Scala’s principals Nicoletta Manni and Martina Arduino, to whom the ballerina taught the role in her masterclasses. While soloist Alice Mariani as Myrtha found one of her best roles, using her imperious personality and sharp technique.  

La Scala Ballet in excerpt from “Giselle.” Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

Among Fracci’s classic repertoire, “The Nutcracker” and “The Sleeping Beauty” were linked to Rudolf Nureyev’s staging and partnership at La Scala.

As she wrote in her memory book, Fracci debuted in Nureyev’s “Nutcracker” in 1971, a few months after giving birth to her son, preparing the role in just a handful of days: an anecdotal episode told also in a recent Italian movie. In the Gala, after a classicist “Flowers Waltz” with clarity performed by the corps de ballet, Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko, La Scala’s beautiful pair of principals, danced the Grand pas deux in perfect Nureyev style, with elegant majesty.

After her 1966 debut at La Scala as Aurora in Nureyev’s production, Fracci never considered “The Sleeping Beauty” as her favorite ballet, although reviews and videos show her authoritative technique and enchanting in style. Chosen among the up-and-coming soloists of the company to dance in the “Rose Adagio,” Agnese Di Clemente is that kind of “petite ballerina” right for Aurora’s role, already confident in the hard passages, and who still has to find her own style.

Vittoria Valerio and Marco Agostino in the balcony pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet” by Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano И Teatro alla Scala

Also “Romeo and Juliet” was linked to the partnership Fracci-Nureyev. In 1980 the couple had a great success at La Scala in Nureyev’s production, although Fracci danced her favorite role of Juliet an infinite number of times, starting with John Cranko’s production she originated at the beginning of her career. In the Gala the “Balcony pas de deux” was danced by soloist Vittoria Valerio, a dancer more suitable to Cranko’s poetic Juliet than to Nureyev’s passionate one, while her partner, principal Marco Agostino, dealt with a uselessly complicated choreography.

Two rare jewels of Fracci’s repertoire were revived for the occasion at La Scala.

Caterina Bianchi in “Le Péri.” Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

“La Péri,” an ideal role for our ballerina for its romantic exoticism, was danced in 1972 at La Scala and later at La Fenice theatre in Venice. With the same, enchanting costume taken from the pictures of Fracci, the pas de deux was danced at the Gala by principals Martina Arduino and Marco Agostino, both succeeding in rendering the serene lightness of the early Romantic style.

Also excellent was the rising soloist Caterina Bianchi, beautiful and “pagan” as Fanny Elssler was in her pièce de résistance: the “taquetée” solo that Carla Fracci loved and danced in the mythical movie Le Ballerine, directed by her husband. La Scala’s archive still preserves the original engraving reproducing Elssler in her Spanish costume with black and pink volants, completed by ebony castanets and little shoes, a set perfectly reproduced for the Gala and elegantly worn by our young soloist.

Antonella Albano and Massimo Garon in “La Strada” by Mario Pistoni. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

As Menegatti says, the career of Carla Fracci circled round these three “G”: Giselle, Giulietta (Juliet) and Gelsomina, that is the main character of La Strada, a ballet by Mario Pistoni taken in 1966 from Fellini’s movie. Fracci, who created the role, was a fragile and touching “bambina vecchia” (old girl) like actress Giulietta Masina was, while principal Antonella Albano, was more strong-willed in the duet chose for the Gala, danced with Soloist Massimo Garon as “il Matto” (the Mad).

Another beloved Italian ballet danced through her career by Fracci was “Excelsior,” the famous XIX century’s “ballo grande italiano” (Italian great ballet), restaged in 1967, where she created the main role of “La Civiltà” (the Civilization). In the Gala the famous pas de deux where the Civilization tames an exotic Slave, was danced by corps de ballet member Camilla Cerulli, strong in technique but lacking in Fracci’s quiet majesty, and soloist Mattia Semperboni, a captivating virtuoso who knows how to charm the audience.

Camilla Cerulli and Mattia Semperboni in “Excelsior.” Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

To recall how international Carla Fracci’s career was, Roberto Bolle and guest Marianela Nuñez danced with easy romance the waltz from Ronald Haydn’s “The Merry Widow.” The close couple also danced a passionate “Letter pas de deux” from Cranko’s “Onegin,” a ballet in whom Fracci debuted at 57, portraying a nonetheless radiant Tatiana.

Roland Petit’s “Chéri” and Maurice Béjart “L’Heure exquise,” both created by Fracci, belong to the last part of her career as a dancer. “Chéri” is a ballet to rediscover, as proved by the pas de deux danced with intensity by soloist Emanuela Montanari, who looked impressively like Fracci, and principal Nicola Del Freo, taught by Massimo Murru who created the male role.

Alessandra Ferri and Carsten Jung in “L’heure exquise” by Maurice Béjart. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

Now adopted by Alessandra Ferri to celebrate her forty years of career, “L’Heure exquise” is an example of how radically a piece can change with different performers. But Carla Fracci and Micha van Hoecke, who created the roles, and died shortly after each other, would probably have appreciated her rendition.

Maria Celeste Losa and Nicola Del Freo in “Symphony in C” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano / Teatro alla Scala

Lining up a lively corps de ballet with soloists and principals in the main roles, “Symphony in C” was the right finale to commemorate the beginning of Fracci’s career, when, so beautiful and talented, she was discovered by George Balanchine himself at La Scala. Dated 1960, a couple of sweet photos showed the choreographer fixing the hairstyle of the young ballerina, immortalized in that historical moment. 

In front of a blow-up showing Carla Fracci taking a bow at La Scala’s proscenium, the entire company paid tribute to our great ballerina, from now on sacred for the Italian ballet.