If it ain't broke, don't fix it. How odd then, that at La Scala, the applauded version of Le Corsaire by Anna-Marie Holmes has been substituted for that by the Milanese company's director, Manuel Legris.
A new production to house Holmes' staging, with designs by Luisa Spinatelli, opened at La Scala in 2018, but the ballet hasn't been mounted since. Now it has returned, with Spinatelli's 2018 designs adapted to allow for the choreographic changes in Legris' version. He created his Le Corsaire for the Vienna State Ballet when he was its director in 2016. This also had designs by Spinatelli, though not the same as those for La Scala. But what's the point? Legris evidently believes his version to be superior to that of Holmes, and one hopes that vanity (or worse, the value of the performing rights) played no part in the decision to ‘fix' Corsaire at La Scala.
Many remember the 2018 production for the show-stopping variation from Mattia Semperboni as Ali, the slave. Legris doesn't include that character (Ali wasn't in the first productions of the ballet, but was introduced after his success in early Soviet productions) and gives the music to Conrad, the pirate, for the pas de deux with Medora. In the opening night cast, Conrad was danced nobly by Timofej Andrijashenko, but in a later cast Semperboni was a magnificent Conrad, dancing to the same music as that of his 2018 triumph, with decelerating pirouettes and his astonishingly fast à la seconde turns – this time, though, with choreography by Legris.
Although the corps de ballet danced superbly together, some of the dancers in a named role, especially those in the first cast, lacked the Russian pizazz and in-yer-face personality that is desirable, even required, for this ballet – especially if you are playing a pirate or an abducted noblewoman. Subtlety gets lost in such a cartoonish story. Bring on the flashing eyes and bravado arms-outstretched port de bras… ta-da.
Someone who gets this, and stops just shy of being hammy, is Federico Fresi who played Lankedem, the owner of the bazaar – he has some showy technical moves too. Something that Legris loves to do is give as many challenging steps as he can to everyone in the company, so this Le Corsaire was something of a company showcase.
Excellent in the later cast was the newly minted principal, Alice Mariani, as Medora – the noblewoman Conrad falls for. She has a rock-solid technique, with soft and expressive wrists and arms, and here were eyes that flashed like a beacon. She's a joy to watch. Camilla Cerulli was delightful as Gulnare, another noblewoman. She was recently promoted to soloist, and this young dancer is one to watch.
Claudio Coviello (as Birbanto, Conrad's second-in-command) and Antonella Albano (as Zulmea, the daughter of a rich merchant) were in the opening cast and they danced with daring and flamboyance. Albano threw herself into his arms, (without a safety net!), from a great distance, as in those black and white Soviet videos – they were both thrilling. They were equalled in the later cast with a dancer who was new to me, Rinaldo Venuti, who is exciting and personable, together with the young Linda Giubelli who is proving her worth with every role she is given.
Some odd sounds came from the orchestra pit, presumably because the much-snubbed music is more difficult to play than it seems. The brass section was especially erratic. Certainly, the music is a mixed bag, with Adolphe Adam ‘and others' credited. The ‘others' are nine in number with contributions from Cesare Pugni who added music for various Russian revivals for Marius Petipa; Léo Delibes for a production in Paris in the 1860s (it was Delibes who composed most of Le Jardin animé); Riccardo Drigo, who wrote most of the Le Corsaire pas de deux; and even Eugene Kornblit, who added a piece when he conducted the work in the 1950s. Legris has now added a section of Delibes' Sylvia into the mix.
Legris has kept Petipa's Le Jardin animé intact, while he chose to change (most of) the Pas de trois des odalisques. He probably has his reasons…
Le Corsaire – Manuel Legris – photo album
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.