Once again I seem to be posting of the passing of another great performer that I loved: the great ballerina Carla Fracci died this past week at her home in Milano. She had been diagnosed with cancer two years ago but had chosen to keep it private from all but her closest family and friends.
Her devoted friend Graham Spicer wrote a beautiful memory of her and created a very personal video as a tribute to a great artist and human being. A left click will take you to his touching homage to a true prima ballerina assoluta.
I had the good fortune to see her in 1986 when the overblown Franco Zeffirelli’s Swan Lake, as it was billed, came to the National Arts Centre from La Scala, her home theatre. The ballet had been reworked and Signora Fracci’s Odile, the Black Swan, had become the central character. In spite of the elaborate costumes, overpowering sets, and crowds of extras your eyes were riveted to her every move. She had a magic and a stage presence that was spellbinding and her pyrotechnics beat anything Zeff could possibly think up.
The Odette was a young dancer who was to be one of her successors as a prima ballerina asoluta: Alessandra Ferri. I was blithefully unaware that I seeing two dance legends – one at the beginning of her career and the other at the end. I say at the end but Signora Fracci never did retire from dancing, she simply retired roles and took on technically less demanding but dramatically just as important character roles. And she shouldered the daunting task of directing the ballet companies at several of the major theatres in Italy.
Again I was fortunate that she was the ballet director at the Teatro del’Opera in Rome during the first three years of our stay there. Her choice of repertoire was occasionally criticized for being old fashioned but to a modern balletomane it was a chance to see works that I had only read about. From the The Red Poppy, a seminal Soviet propaganda ballet, to Parade, Massine’s surreal circus in Picasso’s legendary designs, to a reconstruction of Hérold’s La Somnambule, which lay as dormant as its heroine since 1827, and much more it was the history of 19th-20th century dance brought to life.
Though she appeared in character roles they were often expanded to include some measure of dance. And whither she played the Queen Mother in Swan Lake or Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, when she came on stage you knew you were in the presence of a star. And at the end of every performance, even if she had not danced that night, she would appear at the final curtain call with the entire cast. And often to the discomfort of the prima ballerina she would receive the greatest applause. At first I thought it was vanity but then I realized that no, this woman was dance in Italy. She was the face and voice of ballet and the wider world of the arts for generations of Italians. She was a true national treasure.
Here she is in the first act variation from one of her most famous roles – Giselle.
Signora Carla – you were a star here on earth may you now dance amongst the stars.
The word for May 30th is:
Balletomane /baˈledəˌmān/: [noun]
A ballet enthusiast
Early 20th century: from ballet + Greek manēs ‘mad’.
Strangely another possible etymology is: the Russian noun “baletoman,” which in turn combines the word for “ballet” (“balet“) and the suffix -man, from “maniya” (meaning “mania”).
English/Greek or Russian derivation amongst my loved ones in Italy I am amongst the most sane.