Have you ever given yourself a big kick up the backside for lamenting about something that others would give their eyeteeth to do?
Getting ready to see the opening night of Giselle at La Scala had me moaning about putting on long trousers, leaving the comfort of my house to get in my oven-like car (I really must free up the garage) and having to walk on the scorching marble pavements to arrive at Milan's opera house (hardly a feat of endurance – in all, just a measly 20-minute trip). A big slap across the wrist later, I reminded myself of my fortune of being able to go to one of the most beautiful theatres in the world, to see a top company performing its signature piece, and, as a critic, I had a free ticket in the best part of the house to boot – shame on me!
I got even more from the evening than I was expecting: it was an overwhelmingly exciting and emotional performance.
It wasn't perfect. The orchestra sounded as though the subs were in to cover for the regulars lounging on a beach somewhere: there were plentiful bum notes from the pit. Also, the opening night peasant pas de deux was disappointing, above all because Agnese di Clemente (who performed a superb rose adage at the Gala Fracci a few weeks ago) and Mattia Semperboni (magnificent in the recent revival of Sylvia) should have been an ideal couple, but they were both uncertain and technically uneven with flashes of brilliance interspersed with some choreographic fudging. However…
The rest was just wonderful. The corps de ballet was slick and stylistically elegant and cohesive. Maria Celeste Losa's Myrtha was breathtaking with a pas de bourrée as fast as I've ever seen – an optical blur of satin pointes – and she demonstrated impressive jumps as well as having a sternly regal presence. The two main Willis were a familiar pairing of Vittoria Valerio – as soft as the tulle she was wearing – who found some magical balances, and Alessandra Vassallo who has a confident superiority about her dancing as though she is a Myrtha-in-waiting (in fact, she plays Myrtha in a later cast). As Hilarion, Marco Agostino (who is Albrecht in a later cast) was strong-willed without being melodramatic, and step-perfect.
The centre of the evening were Nicoletta Manni's Giselle and Timofej Andrijashenko's Albrecht. Manni has never been more expressive and there were many tears flowing at curtain down. Her reactions to her mother, Albrecht, Hilarion, and Bathilde, were beautifully judged and they made her surreal situation utterly believable. There was no childish simpleton in her performance: Giselle is a happy young woman and, if she's not worldly-wise, it's probably more due to her mother sheltering her to protect her weak heart, rather than her being a provincial bumkin. Manni is always a guarantee technically, but her forward cambré for this Giselle was lower, her épaulement less timid, her smile wider. She recently celebrated her 30th birthday and she is blossoming with age.
Andrijashenko pulled off the crowd-winning feat of executing 33 entrechat six and in doing so won over Myrtha too. He is an innately elegant dancer but when he arrived at Giselle's grave he walked ponderously as though all life had been drained from him, his existence now meaningless. Like Manni, his acting was detailed in the first act with a pleasing blend of aristocratic amusement and sincere infatuation.
Such a rich performance, and a welcomely refreshing evening in drought-ravaged Lombardy.
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.