Oh, what a difference a cast makes. While the perfectly competent cast reviewed here a couple of weeks ago in the revival of Rudolf Nureyev's Nutcracker at La Scala was satisfying if lacklustre (some highs, several lows), here with a different, sparkling cast on top form brought out the strengths of Nureyev's production and showed off some very fine dancing. Most was carried on the shoulders of the two principals who are on stage from the beginning to the close of the ballet: the Prince, who also plays Drosselmeyer, and young Clara in her simple frock who becomes the glorious ballet ideal as she transforms into a princess with a tutu and tiara.
Nicoletta Manni was Clara, and she tackled every difficulty that Nureyev threw at her with joy. She was believably naïve in the opening scene and commandingly regal during the closing pas de deux. This is a dancer who has slowly blossomed – she's now 30. While she's always been an excellent technician, she used to lack communication, but over the last five years or so it has all come together, and she now projects a strong personality, which, one presumes, was always there but not apparent.
Her Prince (on stage and off) was Timofej Andrijashenko who is a natural prince in his bearing and handles Nureyev's quirky challenges well. He was less convincing as Drosselmeyer because he still has a ‘baby face' and although he's tall and towered over the children on stage, he looked like a little boy standing on another's shoulders in a man's long coat. Roberto Bolle too looked like a boy until he was 40, yet Nureyev always had a man's face – even prematurely so. It was Nureyev who originated the double Drosselmeyer/Prince role.
The affinity between Manni and Andrijashenko was clear during their pas de deux, and they were always delightfully in synchronisation. Refinement abounded with flicks of panache. It was a pinnacle moment for both them and for La Scala.
In this production, there is a lot of doubling, and many in the party scene appear in Clara's dream, but in the first scene it is the three Stahlbaum children who entertain the guests by dressing up as other characters, presented by Drosselmeyer. Here, Clara has a sister, Louisa, played magnificently by Vittoria Valerio who is also the very energetic sabre-wielding Saracen with an outsized moustache; her brother Fritz is played by a lively Mattia Semperboni who appears to the guests as a soldier with a rifle and some sharp legwork; and Clara herself plays a mechanical doll with a dress and bonnet and some impressive slow-motion turns while holding her leg high with her foot held in flex.
The doubling continues when the two grandparents are incorporated in a rather bizarre scene during the Arab dance, Fritz and Louisa participate in the Spanish Dance, and their parents lead the Russian dance.
The corps de ballet was impressive in the demanding snowflakes scene and especially in the Waltz of the Flowers.
This was a recording from the opening night of the ballet season, seen on Italian television last night, and on Medici TV and other streaming platforms from today. The television director Stefania Grimaldi captured it well and saw no need to add irritating cameras above the stage or cut off dancers at the waist while they are executing a series of steps. Finally! RAI TV, please hold on to her.
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.