La Scala sometimes lets down its audience by casting a ‘local' dancer when the star has cancelled. I apologise if I'm upsetting some of the company, but this is often a deluding experience resulting in frustration and anger from fans who feel cheated. When Natalia Osipova mysteriously pulled out from her two scheduled performances in Manon last week, La Scala did the right thing and called Sarah Lamb.
The Royal Ballet Principal makes a fine Manon. Her porcelain ballerina-figurine face and proportions are ideal for her encounter with Des Grieux and the Act 1 bedroom pas de deux, yet she has a feline quality which she uses winningly to seduce all the men during the party in Act 2 party, and in the final act her thin white frailness makes her a believable tragic victim instead of a calculating hussy who, well, miscalculated. She manages to be simultaneously wide-eyed and cunning which is not easy to pull off.
Lamb was accompanied by La Scala Principal Claudio Coviello as Des Grieux, who has deepened his interpretation since his first outing in the role two years ago when both he and Osipova made their débuts in Kenneth MacMillan's masterpiece. He is an honest dancer who gives value to every step, imbuing each one with his elegant technique, and he almost speaks with his sublime feet which appear to caress the stage. He's a worthy descendant of Anthony Dowell and a perfect partner for Sarah Lamb… more please?
The Lescaut of Angelo Greco was spot on, even for the comedy which often doesn't come through very well at La Scala. There must be nothing worse than being told that you are the next so-and-so or that you recall the young whatshisname, but I'm going to do it anyway: in character and – thankfully – also in technique, Greco reminds me of Baryshnikov. He has an impish charm and jumps with the ease of a grasshopper… to watch.
There was fine acting from Massimo Garon as Monsieur G.M. and Monica Vaglietti as Madame, and Walter Madau as the beggar chief was suitably vivacious and cheeky.
Jacopo Tissi, Christian Fagetti and Timofej Andrijashenko however, as the three gentlemen at the party, seemed to be in a ‘anything you can do, I can do better' mood, instead of trying to work together as a coordinated team. Maybe Tissi, after having played Des Grieux the previous evening, found it difficult getting back into line.
A quick footnote. Things go wrong, it happens, and such events don't need underlining in a review; however, this incident made me laugh, so I will. Nicholas Georgiadis' sets are opulent yet fraying at the edges: a metaphor for the sick society Manon becomes a part of. Into this heavy 18th century world of brocade drapes and gilt came a bit of 21st century disco as the moving head spots took on a life of their own and rapidly changed colour and position as if in appreciation of Coviello's market scene variation. Surreal.
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.