Luciana Novaro, a hugely important figure in Italian ballet, died on 26 May at 98. Her passing was unfortunately overshadowed by the death several hours later of the ballerina Carla Fracci, her friend and colleague.
She was born in Genoa on 3 March 1923 and was a graduate of La Scala’s Ballet School, becoming a principal dancer with the company from 1941 to 1956. In 1947, her interpretation of Ravel’s Boléro with Aurel Milloss’ choreography showed the strong character and energy that distinguished her performances – Spanish-themed roles were her speciality. In 1950 Léonide Massine chose Novaro for the La Scala debut of his Rite of Spring and danced with her in the Capriccio Spagnolo. Other memorable performances included Michel Fokine’s Tricorno, she danced with Serge Lifar in his ballet Daphnis et Chloé at La Scala in 1948, Massine’s Gaîté parisienne, Margherita Wallman’s version of de Falla’s El amor brujo, and many more.
From 1947 until 1975 she was a regular collaborator with Verona Arena’s summer festival, both as a dancer and choreographer. At the Vienna State Opera she choreographed the dances for La traviata in 1957 with Herbert von Karajan conducting – the production remained in the repertoire until 1968. She also created the dances for La forza del destino for Vienna in 1974 with Riccardo Muti conducting, which remained until 1982.
Novaro choreographed for Municipal Theatre of São Paulo, Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Teatro della Pergola in Florence, and others. In Venice she also directed two operas as well as creating the choreography for them.
Novaro became director of the La Scala Ballet Company from 1962 to 1964. Her first choreography at La Scala was for Gian Carlo Menotti’s Sebastian in 1956, created for a new star: Carla Fracci. She was also the choreographer for La traviata with Maria Callas, directed by Luchino Visconti. She collaborated with Stravinsky on Jeu de cartes and with Massine who choreographed Fantasmi al Grand Hotel from an idea by Novaro, which was the result of her collaboration with novelist and painter Dino Buzzati and composer Luciano Chailly.
I can say from personal experience that she was extremely generous with young dancers at the private dancing school that she ran in later life, often refusing payment for the use of a rehearsal room or coaching. She would give grants to students with financial difficulties, and arranged free acting lessons for all her students, a competent of dance she considered essential; in fact, directing was another of her talents.
Novaro was married to the well-respected Italian journalist Nino Nutrizio, who died in 1988, and they had a daughter, Cristina.
She died in Milan on 26 May 2021, at the age of 98.
Four years ago, for Carla Fracci’s 80th birthday, she wrote:
Carla has always been the most beautiful and the best in the world. I was part of the jury when she auditioned for the school at La Scala, and some of the other members were in doubt because she had such thin legs, but I said, “But where will you find a torso and arms as beautiful as these!”
I am one of her most staunch admirers and I love her dearly.