Carla Fracci, the Italian queen of dance, has died

Carla Fracci, the Italian queen of dance, has died

Carla Fracci

The New York Times called her "the absolute prima ballerina". Eugenio Montale dedicated “The tired dancer” to her. She has performed in the most prestigious theaters in the world but also in the most popular occasions to bring the general public closer to her art

(Photo: Getty Images) Carla Fracci died today, May 27, at the age of 84 years old, in her home in Milan. Among the most famous and talented dancers in the world, she had long been afflicted by a tumor in respect of which she had kept the strictest confidentiality of her. Born in Milan on August 20, 1936 with the name of Carolina from a family of humble origins, her talent was precocious and very clear, so much so that, after the Second World War, it was the friends of the recreational club where her father worked who pushed her family to support her in the audition at La Scala. After passing the exam and after a first period of difficulty due to the rigid and severe environment that surrounded her, Carla Fracci began to forge the stages of a very bright career: studies with Margot Fonteyn and Vera Volkova, graduating in 1954, solo dancer two years later and, finally, prima ballerina in 1958 just twenty-two.

From the end of the 1950s onwards, her performances all over the world have been countless, which gave her the opportunity to tread the stages of the London Festival Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the American Ballet Theater and many others prestigious institutions. She danced with the greatest, from Rudolf Nureyev (“Dancing with him was a challenge: eccentric, competitive but very generous”, she later said) to Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Baryshnikov; and she distinguished herself above all for the dramatic and poignant interpretations of her, first of all Giselle, but also Sylphide, Francesca da Rimini and Medea. In a few years she became the most famous Italian étoile in the world, defined by the New York Times as "the absolute prima ballerina", while the poet Eugenio Montale said of her that she was "an eternal dancing girl", then dedicating to her the poem The tired dancer .

Married since 1964 to Beppe Menegatti, assistant director of Luchino Visconti, Carla Fracci made numerous shows with him, often giving up the prestige of the big stages with the intention of bringing ballet to the general public. And she succeeded, even arriving on television, long before Roberto Bolle's recent experiments, for example in the 1966 musical show Pink Shoes, but also in several Saturday night shows. She was even a very talented actress, participating in the Rai Verdi drama or Mauro Bolognini's film True Story of the Lady of the Camellias. Carlo di Napoli, the Arena di Verona and the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, and has always carried on his passion for teaching and spreading classical dance to the new generations. “I danced in the tents, in the churches, in the squares. I wanted this work of mine not to be elite, relegated to the gold boxes of opera houses ", she declared at one point. "And even when I was busy on the most important scenes in the world, I always returned to Italy to perform in the most forgotten and unthinkable places. I liked it like that, and the public has always paid off. ”

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Italy's Carla Fracci, La Scala prima ballerina, dies at 84

The Milan theater recalled the “fairytale rise” of the daughter of a tram driver who. It said that through “talent, obstinance and work (she) became the most famous ballerina in the world” and inspired generations of young people.

“Carla Fracci was a cardinal figure in the history of dance and that of La Scala, but also a point of reference for the city of Milan and Italian culture,” the theater said in a statement.

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“She leaves us in amazement, on tiptoe like Giselle, a spirit that remains with us, filling the ballrooms, the stage and our hearts,″ said La Scala’s ballet director, Manuel Legris. “We feel a great void that, at the same time, makes us feel full and rich in all her history — which is the history of ballet — and privileged to have shared her art.”

Fracci was born in Milan on Aug. 20, 1936, and spent World War II with relatives in the countryside to escape the frequent bombardment of the industrialized Lombardy capital. In a recent interview with Sky TG24, Fracci described her younger self as a “farmer,” who knew nothing of the theater or the world of dance “much less those little shoes.”

But after the war, an observer remarked on her “grace and musicality,” recommending she try out for La Scala’s academy.

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She was accepted at age 10, riding her father’s tram each day to the academy, and graduated in 1954, at age 18. Her first stage appearance was in 1955 with other graduating ballet students at the close of a staging of Bellini’s “La sonnambula” conducted by Leonard Bernstein, directed by Luchino Visconti and starting Maria Callas.

She got her first break substituting for French dancer Violette Verdy in “Cinderella” the same year, and by 1958 had risen to the role of prima ballerina.

Her global fame soon spread, with invitations to the Royal Festival Hall, followed by doors opening in the United States, even while remaining a central figure at La Scala. She was most identified with the role of “Giselle,” which she danced with Nureyev and Baryshnikov as well as Danish star Erik Bruhn.

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Later partners included La Scala’s own Roberto Bolle, who remembered Fracci for her “human generosity.”

In 1969, Fracci received the Dance Magazine Award, considered one of the greatest prizes for a dancer.

Performing for camera as well as live audiences, Fracci also played lead roles in the teleplay “Verdi” and the film ”Nijinsky” by Herbert Ross. A bona fide Italian celebrity, she frequently appeared on Italian television and was equally the darling of popular magazines.

Italy’s premier, Mario Draghi, called her “a great Italian,” and President Sergio Mattarella, said she had honored her country “with her elegance and her artistic efforts, the fruit of intense work.”

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Fracci last danced at La Scala in 2000, in the role of Luce in “Excelsior.” She was invited back in January of this year to teach a masterclass on “Giselle,” which was broadcast on La Scala’s social media channels and is part of a documentary series by RAI state television.

“It was very moving to be back at La Scala, after more than 20 years,” she told Sky TG24.

La Scala’s general manager, Dominique Meyer, recalled her return to the theater as “an unforgettable moment for everyone.

“We will always think of her with affection and gratitude, remembering the smile of the last days we spent together, when she felt she had come home again,’’ he said.

Fracci is survived by her husband of 57 years, theater director Beppe Menegatti, and their son, Francesco Menegatti, who as a child often traveled with his mother on tour.