Milan’s newspaper, the most influential Italian paper, Il Corriere della Sera, almost ignored La Raymonda at La Scala last week, with Valeria Crippa’s short article dismissing it quickly.
Here the past is preserved in mothballs, the brilliant Marius Petipa’s choreographic style appears decrepit, and dull scenery frames an ageing corps, despite the freshness of the students of the school.
Others however looked a little closer. Elsa Airoldi for Il Giornale wrote,
Raymonda was well received by the public, despite its length, and it certainly delighted the balletomanes, though others would tire of it quite quickly. Only a theatre like La Scala, where it has been expertly reconstructed in both the choreography (Sergei Vikharev) and the designs, has the possibility to take this period piece and transform the ugly duckling into a swan.
And Sergio Trombetta for La Stampa,
[The creative team] did an outstanding job motivating the entire company which dances and spins as never before, including the children from the La Scala school who were vigorously applauded. They have rediscovered, for example, the dramaturgical point of The White Lady in the ballet blanc, which closes the first act – all elves, naiads and valkyries. That the principal role is a nerve-wracking one is confirmed here, but Olesja Novikova is a Raymonda of great class and brimming with verve.
London’s The Times sent Debra Craine over for this important event in the ballet calendar, and has devoted many column inches to a largely glowing review. Trombetta was granted 300 words, Airoldi a little over 100 as she had to cover the Mariinsky in Turin in the same article, and Crippa got 230 words in. The Times gave Craine space for more than 500 words which greatly affects the depth of a review. (The average length of an Alastair Macaulay dance review for the New York Times is 1000 words!)
This says a lot about dance culture in Italy. Once this important centre of world dance, especially the city of Milan, was forming extraordinary dancers: Pierina Legnani was the first Raymonda, La Syphide was created for Marie Taglioni, Petipa chose Virgina Zucchi as Lise in his La Fille Mal Gardée, Carlotta Grisi was the first Giselle, Paquita and Esmeralda, and the first Swanhilda in Coppélia was Giuseppina Bozzacchi. Italy also gave birth to Enrico Cecchetti, founder of the Cecchetti method, the basis of the Royal Ballet style.
What went wrong? Every now and then nature throws up an exceptional talent, dancers who seem to succeed against the odds. Carla Fracci is perhaps the most accomplished of these, then there’s Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle. But there are few.
Unlike the French, the Russians and the British who have encouraged reconstructions of classic ballets, the first Italian attempt has been strangled at birth, with even the company’s dancers writing scathing remarks about the piece on Facebook. Though it’s not, of course, a truly Italian venture. The company’s director Makhar Vaziev (ex-Mariinsky director and principal) pushed the project through with Sergei Vikharev recreating the original choreography. Vikharev, ex-Mariinsky principal himself, has become a reconstruction specialist with his Sleeping Beauty and Bayadère for the Mariinsky, and this year’s Coppélia for the Bolshoi seen on cinema screens all over the world. The production would surely have been greeted more lovingly in Russia – and the character dancing would have been better too.
Part of the problem is that the La Scala company performs so little, with only five titles in the whole of the current season. Maybe dedicating such space and resources to a specialist area such as this would be better in a company such as the Bolshoi (who have 9 different programmes just from now until the end of the year). So it’s good to see Craine spearheading the way toward international recognition for the achievement in reconstructing Petipa’s Raymonda.
Vikharev’s brief in Milan was to turn the clock back to Petipa’s original intentions. Using notated choreographic scores (housed at Harvard University) and with the original set and costume sketches still extant, he and the La Scala team have produced a sweeping and exalted tribute to Petipa’s grand vision.
And it doesn’t come any grander than this. With 500 costumes, a cast of 150 and an overflowing stream of classical and national dances that culminates in the exotic Hungarian fantasy of Act III, the danger here is of bedazzlement.
… Petipa uses his meagre tale as a hook upon which to hang a most magnificent choreographic cloak. A master of composition, he was a genius at putting steps together, and realised that simplicity of form is sometimes the most elegant way. His writing combines tender romantic fancies with courtly ebullience, diamond-sharp precision with light-hearted footwork, all of it as decorated as a Parisian sweet shop. At its centre is Raymonda, one of the most glittering and taxing roles in the repertoire (it was originally created for the Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani, who was celebrated for her technical virtuosity).
But there is a price to pay for the extravagant pageantry. With no quiet, revealing moments and no dramatic payoff for the lovers, the heroine is more cipher than flesh and blood. Visually, however, it’s splendour all round. The painted flats evoke vaunting castle ceilings and pretty, verdant gardens; the costumes are copious and comely, though to modern eyes those for the men inevitably look a little camp. The Glazunov score, conducted by Mikhail Jurowski, indulges in shimmering melodies and irresistible surges of sentiment; like powdered sugar on chocolate it’s a surfeit of riches and we lap up every tasty morsel.
There’s a telling phrase in that: “The painted flats evoke vaunting castle ceilings and pretty, verdant gardens”, whereas to the Italian critic the sets were “dreary”. Maybe the real reason that many Italians don’t appreciate this Raymonda is they can’t. To countries used to rain and grey skies the scenery is evocative, to the Italians it’s just sad and dull. The contrast of the subdued colours of a Constable landscape with the vivid colours of a Michelangelo scene is maybe just too much.
… I loved it!
Photo by Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano