For almost two years – that is, since the departure of Carla Fracci as a director – the Ballet of the Rome Opera seems to have fallen prey to evil spirits, or at least incompetent ones, who have drastically reduced the quantity and quality of performances. All under the orders of the famous conductor, notoriously despotic and a known enemy of dance. The new director of the ballet company, Micha van Hoecke, has no specific responsibilities for now. But the future is worrying.
Over the last eighteen months the magical world of ballet has changed at the Rome Opera into a world of nightmares: three evil fairies – Superficiality, Incompetence and Ignorance – in cahoots with Carabosse, are opposed to Fortune and the Future of the sleeping beauty (dance, of course) and are mounting a siege on Rome's Opera House, plotting to decree (finally!) the ruin of the ballet company. Shows cancelled, a steep fall in the number of ballets in the season (from almost a hundred to less than fifty), ballets scheduled in prestigious productions and then represented in unknown versions. “New” choreography for the repertory ballets turn out to be remakes of well-known historical versions (which anyone who has seen a bit of ballet in his life can recognize)… And finally, press relations reduced a minimum: being that no one is capable of running them with any competence, press conferences for ballet have been simply abolished.
Ouch! But the truth is often painful to hear.
For at least thirty years these spirits have been working away in the shadows – not only in Rome but all over Italy – to wipe out the Italian ballet tradition. It seems that they are on the verge of succeeding.
Except that for a decade (2000-2010) a seemingly powerful Lilac Fairy, disguised as Carla Fracci, managed to obtain excellent results (with, inevitably, a few flops), and a company that seemed doomed twenty years ago was reborn.
Fracci's last season ballet scored a tie with the opera season: 18 titles a head, something unheard of in Italian theatres. It is probably not a coincidence that Fracci's known lean to the left in politics led her to be ousted when the right took over Rome's council.
And along came Muti.
Riccardo Muti was offered the artistic helm of the Opera House by the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno. For some inexplicable reason, he was able to dictate who would lead the ballet company. Certainly not Fracci, with whom the conductor had had various spats with in Milan, and so at the end of July 2010 the ‘Duse of Dance' left the theatre for good, and when the company returned after the summer break they found two-thirds of the season's programme cancelled. Muti's old friend Micha van Hoecke stepped into her shoes, though his position is still temporary.
The first season without Carla Fracci saw ballet performances halved, and one of her star dancers, Vito Mazzeo, left while the going was good, and became a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. Swan Lake was grandly announced to be in a brand new version by Attilio Labis, but when it came to it the theatre presented the version that Fracci had given them. Three new creations became just one, and Markarova's La Bayadère disappeared and was replaced with a version by the unknown Rafael Avnikjan.
Carla Fracci, just as she was about to leave her post, told the dancers that they must fight for their jobs, for the company and for ballet. Is it too late?
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.