The main curiosity surrounding the return to La Scala of Roland Petit’s ballet Notre-Dame de Paris was how cover-boy-ballerino Roberto Bolle could handle the role of the hunchback Quasimodo; as he said himself “it’s the first time I haven’t played il bello“.
Well, he comes out of it very well, maybe he’s not a dancer-actor like a Nicolas Le Riche, but he is convincing and executes the choreography superbly. But he was only one of four superb interpreters, and the dancer who stirred most curiosity amongst ballet fans was Natalia Osipova.
In this theatre she has only been seen in the role of Kitri, and the backstage buzz has been why a virtuoso like Osipova has been chosen this season to play both Esmeralda and Manon. Those of us who have seen her Sylphide and Juliet knew already that La Scala was making a smart move by bringing her to Milan’s opera house in a new repertory.
Her Esmeralda is a triumph. Her leaps and laser-sharp leg movements we can, for now, take for granted, but she can be extraordinarily delicate and sinuous in her movements, and demonstrated a beautiful fluid cambre as she was manipulated beneath the gaze of Frollo in their pas de deux. The tiny Russian’s big personality invades the cavernous La Scala and her acting is precisely judged and touching. Surely a next challenge should be that of the sister role of Petit’s Carmen; she’d be ideal.
Local boys Eris Nezha and Mick Zeni were perfectly cast: Zezha has the danseur noble comportment and physique, and an heroic technique for Phoebus, and Zeni’s intensity as the evil Frollo was nicely judged. As a fine actor it would be interesting to see Zeni have a stab at Quasimodo.
The leitmotif of any such staging of works from the 50s to the 80s seems to be, “It’s so dated,” and the same was heard around the theatre for this Notre-Dame. Yet to my eyes, it perfectly reflects the mood of the period of it’s creation, part of a century when French art was dominant and French fashion was the chicest around. Yves Saint Laurent’s costumes for this ballet were designed when he was at the top of his game, and who can’t imagine Deneuve or Bardot in Esmeralda’s first act costume. But most importantly, Petit tells the story efficiently and succinctly, with choreographic touches which are not dated but the equivalent of a particular port de bras in Bourneville or an eccentric combination of steps by Ashton. It works!
La Scala’s ballet company and Petit’s right-hand-man Luigi Bonino must take credit for a beautifully re-staged and welcome return of a twentieth-century masterpiece.
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.