In 1813 the Imperial Regia Accademia di Ballo was founded, today's Ballet School of Teatro alla Scala. It became one of the most esteemed dance training centres in the world.
More recently, in 1950, the Scuola dei Cadetti della Scala was created which became today's Academy of Lyric Opera, and in 1970 the Course for Scenic Artists opened.
In 2001 the various courses and schools came together under an umbrella organisation, the Teatro alla Scala Academy, with courses also for theatre photography, lighting, makeup, and for making wigs, props, and costumes. The four departments – Music, Dance, Stage Workshops, Management – offer some thirty courses for over one thousand Italian and foreign students: approximately 500 attending the professional courses and 500 the courses for beginners.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the La Scala Academy, the theatre presented a gala with former singing students and dancers, the current Academy Orchestra, and scenes danced by the Ballet School.
Because of an outbreak of COVID infections among the dancers of La Scala's Ballet Company, the three dancers due to perform were replaced. A couple from the Ballet School stood in for Martina Arduino and Mattia Semperboni, and Roberto Bolle danced a solo piece instead of a duet with Virna Toppi.
A version of Études based on Harald Lander's idea and using the same orchestrated piano studies by Carl Czerny opened the evening and is a perfect showcase for the students and conceived by the school's director Frédéric Olivieri.
With two mini-concerts at the centre of each half of the two-part programme, former singing students performed opera favourites. Sopranos Enkeleda Kamani, Chiara Isotton, Nino Machaidze and Fatma Saïd, mezzosoprano Caterina Piva, tenor Chuan Wang, and baritone Massimo Cavalletti are a mix of singers with those just starting out, and those with well-established careers. Young Egyptian soprano Fatma Saïd, whose career is blossoming, was delightful singing Delibes' Les filles de Cadix, Chuan Wang breezily shook off the challenges of Donizetti's Ah, mes amis, and Caterina Piva showed off her bronzed mezzo in Carmen's L'amour est un oiseau rebelle.
Although for the ballet crowd (including a good number of ballet mums and dads) a closed curtain seemed to signal an opportunity to comment and update social media, the orchestra in the pit played the Nutcracker overture and the intermezzo from Manon Lescaut superbly. Donato Renzetti conducted the very mixed programme.
A version of ‘The Waltz of the Snowflakes' from The Nutcracker, again by Olivieri, introduced two promising young dancers as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince – Rebecca Luca and Vincenzo Romano. Admirably replacing the quarantined La Scala dancers at the last moment were two other ‘star students', Asia Matteazzi and Lorenzo Lelli, with The Nutcracker second act grand pas de deux.
Roberto Bolle, left alone without his quarantined partner, changed his intended piece to Russell Maliphant's Two, with exciting laser effects by Michael Hulls which in the closing moments made Bolle's hands and feet seem on fire. Bolle emerging from the darkness at the beginning of the piece was disrespectfully illuminated by flashes from phones – it is apparently the price he must pay for his sex-symbol status and TV fame.
A sparkling défilé to the march from Tannhäuser with the dancers from the school and the singers ended the gala and amusingly the little girls sat in the front for the final pose, their delicate arms held out at their sides, respectfully obeyed instructions and held the position even as hefty opera singers passed over them to take their bows – “no children were harmed during the making of this gala”.
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.