|Company||La Scala Ballet|
|Venue||Teatro alla Scala, Milan|
|Date||22 and 26 September 2022|
The current run of Onegin at La Scala saw a plethora of debuts – unfortunately, for most, they had just one shot at their role before another change of cast came along.
One of the most promising recent additions to the company is Alice Mariani who was so impressive during the last season – her first season in Milan – that she was promoted to principal dancer a few weeks ago. Her debut as Tatiana was her first role as a top-ranking ballerina. It's not an easy fit for her forceful personality, so the freshness of the young Tatiana was pushed aside for a character more knowing, and her lyrical pas de deux with Gremin lacked the mix of expansiveness in her movements, yet demureness in her comportment. Her strong, lively face tends to dominate her roles which makes for a great Kitri, but a less convincing Tatiana. She is, however, a wonderful dancer and her expressive feet and secure control in the trickiest sections of the pas de deux, and also in her virtuosic second act solo, made it a performance worth watching (though she could dial down the melodramatics of the final moments of the closing scene).
With her was Gabriele Corrado as Onegin, a role he has played to acclaim during other outings, and he is tailormade for it: noble, authoritative, and elegant, both in his dancing and his acting. There was a debut for Mattia Semperboni who danced Lensky quite beautifully, though this young dancer needs to intensify his makeup or animate his face more as his inner intentions come across reluctantly. His Olga was Alessandra Vassallo who is anything but invisible and is a fine dancer. Edoardo Caporaletti was Gremin (another debut), but this imposing dancer seemed too boyish – he's 28 this year – even with greying hair in the final act. Yet Gioacchino Starace in the same role, and who is the same age as Caporaletti, was completely believable. Both men danced with quiet assurance.
In the same cast as Starace were other debuts. Nicola Del Freo and Vittoria Valerio played the leading couple with great conviction. She is a wisp of a thing, yet how powerful she was in the final scene! She has long been La Scala's go-to ballerina for Giselle as she's a multi-layered actress who expresses herself subtly and has a rock-solid technique and a poetic quality of movement. Here too she was touching in her solo to Onegin's turned back – confusion, passion, frustration, all beautifully conveyed – and impressively determined in those chilling ‘go!' gestures before the curtain comes down.
Del Freo was Lensky in the opening night cast and oddly seemed to push himself more than necessary into his turns, especially in the duel scene, which is the opposite of what we are used to from this assured and cool dancer. Maybe he had his mind on becoming Onegin, and it is a role that suits him well. He was erect in his bearing, without being rigid, and detached in his manner, without losing humanity. Here, all his turns and jumps were perfectly under control.
In the same cast were Caterina Bianchi and Navrin Turnbull as Olga and Lensky, dancing the roles for the first time. Australian-born Turnbull graduated in 2018 and Manuel Legris (then director of the Vienna State Ballet) offered him a three-year contract with the company. Then, after a season as a soloist with the Bavarian State Ballet, Legris welcomed him to La Scala last year. He is a stylish dancer, with the softest of landings, and looks as though he was born to wear 19th-century garb. Bianchi was a delightful Olga, her eyes sparkling as much as her footwork. Two satisfying debuts.
If the above underlines the breadth of talent at La Scala, one element – and an essential one – is missing from many interpretations. It's the showbiz, razzle-dazzle, sock it to 'em part of performance – the ability to seduce an audience. It's a little late if you truly see a performer only during the curtain calls. Mariani and Valerio above all showed that it isn't a quality that's absent completely and, heaven knows, if it's too much and ill-timed it can make a performance seem plucked straight from a dancing competition. But many of La Scala's dancers need encouragement to bring out that aspect of their personality, and it is certainly there with most of them because it can be seen when they dance a role with which they feel a natural affinity. I want a dancer in a story-led ballet to grab me by the collar and not let me go again until the house lights come up. Maybe a pre-show Mickey Rooney-style prep talk in the wings is needed: “Ok, go get ‘em kids!”
ONEGIN 26 September 2022 with Nicola Del Freo and Vittoria Valerio
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.