A week ago today, Carla Fracci’s funeral was televised live on RAI1, Italy’s main television channel. The day of her death, Thursday 27 May 2021, television schedules were immediately revised and her ballets were shown, colleagues were interviewed, and everyone from art critics to politicians had something to say about her. As a UK-based ballet critic noted, this level of attention for a dancer is almost unknown.
Fracci was one of the few ballet dancers to break out of the theatre world and become a celebrity. While her international fame was mainly for the ballet crowd, in Italy everyone knew who La Fracci was. A florist outside a cemetery in Milan spoke about her recently, in awe, as she prepared some white lilies – and she’d never been to a theatre. Walking with her in the street could be quite alarming when somebody would unexpectedly rush up, only to ask for an autograph or selfie.
She was on the cover of all the newspapers the day after she died, and even on the following two days as they reported on the queue of people paying respect as they filed past her coffin in the foyer of La Scala the day after she died (this honour has only been given three times in the past, for the conductors Toscanini, De Sabata, and Gavazzeni), and as they covered her funeral the day after that. This week she is appearing on the covers of magazines.
The funeral was held at San Marco’s church, near her home, which is where Verdi’s Requiem was first heard and, during the mass, the organ he used to play provided music from La traviata, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. Colleagues from her generation through to the young principal dancers now at La Scala were present. The church was as packed as it could be at this time of social distancing, and sadly the doors had to be closed to keep too many people from entering. The rows of paparazzi and television crews looked like the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival.
The Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, said that he was “deeply moved by the death of Carla Fracci”; the Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, said that she was “an example of passion for entire generations, an exceptional interpreter, a great Italian.”; the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, wrote on Twitter: “She was the greatest. Divine and eternal. Full of love for dance, new projects, ideas for life, with the enthusiasm of a twenty-year-old. Italian culture will be grateful to you forever, extraordinary #CarlaFracci.”
The wonderful Italian actress Giulia Lazzarini (a friend of Fracci’s, and just a couple of years older), told me this week that she thinks this outpouring of affection from the Milanesi is also due to Fracci never having hidden her humble origins and was proud of her city, as is Lazzarini. She always kept a home near La Scala (at three different addresses) even when she was the director of Rome Opera’s ballet company for ten years and had other homes near Florence and in Venice.
An oft-told story is that of her father, a tram driver, ringing tram n°1’s bell three times as he passed La Scala so that she knew he was nearby. One of the most moving tributes to her was that on the day that she was lying in rest at La Scala, all the trams on route n°1 rang their bells three times as they passed the theatre.
The small town of Chiusi della Verna, where there is Franciscan Sanctuary where Fracci and Beppe Menegatti’s son Francesco was christened, will rename a street in her honour; The Nervi International Festival near Genoa will be dedicated to her this year; Macbeth, which opens La Scala’s season on 7 December (a date on which Fracci participated several times for the opera dances) will be in her name; Valongo, a town 100km from Milan where Fracci was sent to live with her maternal grandmother during the second world war, declared a day of mourning, as did Milan; theatres put her photo in their entrances where the public could lay flowers.
The mayor of Milan has awarded her a place in the Famedio of the Monumental Cemetry, sometimes referred to as the Temple of Fame, where the tomb (or a marble plaque if the person is buried elsewhere) celebrates the great and good: Arturo Toscanini, Alessandro Manzoni, Dario Fo… These are initiatives that have already been put into place in just a week.
Of all these, one is especially touching and has already been realised. Milan has painted a n°1 tram Fracci-white with her name on its side so that every time it passes through the city people will see it and remember… Carla Fracci.
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.