La Scala's new sovrintendente, Alexander Pereira, has announced that Carla Fracci, the Italian ballerina par excellence, will return to the Milanese theatre that witnessed many of her triumphs during her long career.
Sig.ra Fracci could give a masterclass in the theatre as Bergonzi did for the singers; his lessons were priceless. We are also thinking of her return to our stage in a suitable role.
For more than a decade, Fracci has not been involved with the ballet company as either a performer or as a coach.
Fracci studied at La Scala Theatre Ballet School from the age of ten, and in 1954, aged eighteen, she joined the company. She was promoted to soloist in 1956, and at twenty-two was a Principal dancer. The last performances she gave with the company were on tour in Turin with the ballet Excelsior at the end of 2000, and the last performance at La Scala was in the same ballet on New Year's Eve in 1999, the last performance of the millennium. For the next ten years she was the director of the ballet company in Rome.
It was a decision that we had to make very quickly as I had just been chosen as the next sovrintendente. We couldn't open the ballet season with a title from the existing repertoire.
Which seems like an admission of guilt. Nutcracker was followed by Cello Suites, by Heinz Spoerli (who ran the ballet company when Pereira headed the Zurich Opera) which failed to sell throughout the entire run. The current production of Giselle, which recently conquered Paris on tour, has sold out. Here is what Pereira says about ballet programming at the theatre:
I'm not one of those sovrintendenti who wants to dismantle the ballet company. I come from Zurich where the theatre is called “…of opera and ballet” and for me it should be the same at La Scala. If a theatre is dark it just raises the costs. But I think that ballet in Milan must evolve.
When I see productions that are forty or more years old I suffer when I see the dust on the scenery and the old lighting. You can't just remain with the repertory of Fokin, Petipa, Nureyev. You need to focus on research. If a chemical company doesn't invest in research, over the long run it will lose its reason for existing.
It is perhaps not accidental that he chooses a business metaphor and not an artistic one. Even so, a chemical company bases its research on the fundamentals of science, rules which are immutable, and thus is far more rigid than a ballet company performing Petipa where the steps today have evolved and are certainly executed in a different way than they were more than a century ago. Besides which, research, to me, seems more suited to smaller companies or festivals. La Scala has the scale and economic possibilities to commission new, full-length works from the greatest choreographers and designers working today, who have already done their research in their formative years.
There are places for jewels and places for crowns. Let's not reduce La Scala to Zurich.
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.