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Carla Fracci following a performance of Giselle at la Scala earlier this year. © Brescia e Amino/Teatro alla Scala

OBITUARY

Carla Fracci

Born 20 August 1936 -  Died 27 May 2021


Carla Fracci, the Italian prima ballerina assoluta, has died in Milan, the city where she was born, after a short illness which she kept secret from everyone. Nobody in the Italian ballet milieu suspected her declining health as she had been very active up until a few weeks before her death. Just a few months ago, following the filming of a Rai TV story about her early life, she was seen in the theatre giving masterclasses to La Scala Ballet on Giselle, her hallmark role. Invited by the new director, Manuel Legris, she was enthusiastic and ready to cooperate with the theatre again after a long absence following the humiliation she experienced when rejected in 1999.

Fracci was accepted by chance in La Scala's Ballet School and she used to recall, as an anecdote, the words of then-director Ettorina Mazzuchelli, who said "She has a beautiful little face!". The daughter of a tram driver, who drove her to La Scala every day, she never forgot her humble childhood in a very difficult, post-war Italy. She graduated into the company in 1954 and was appointed prima ballerina in 1958, becoming “la Carlina” during the golden age of the Milanese theatre. Taking lessons from Vera Volkova, she danced in La Sonnambula, directed by Luchino Visconti with Maria Callas in the main role. She met and was inspired by Margot Fonteyn and Yvette Chauviré, who were invited to Milan as guests, and was chosen by George Balanchine for a solo role: a tender photograph captures the choreographer adjusting her hairstyle.

Since her early career, Fracci danced all the ballets of the 19th and 20th centuries, excelling in romantic roles with a lyrical or dramatic style. At La Scala she was a very young Cinderella, following Violette Verdy, while in Venice, John Cranko created the role of Juliet on her in his production of Romeo and Juliet. Her international career was launched at the London Festival Ballet, when she was chosen by Anton Dolin to portray Lucile Grahn in his Pas de quatre, and with American Ballet Theatre she danced Giselle with Eric Bruhn, which was filmed for posterity.

It is now quite impossible, due to the emotion of this sad moment, to remember all the ballets she performed and all the artists with whom she danced. Among her beloved partners, there was Rudolf Nureyev (with whom she had a stormy relationship and many famous on-stage mishaps),

Vladimir Vasiliev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and, later in her career, George Iancu and Paul Chalmer. Fracci’s legendary stories were often told by her husband, director Beppe Menegatti, who she met at La Scala when he was Visconti's assistant. This brilliant and cultivated man has always been Fracci’s Pygmalion, who guided her artistic choices. With Menegatti, Fracci had a son, Francesco: a rarity in those days when a child inevitably meant the end of a ballerina's career.

In parallel to her international career, Fracci endeavoured to bring the ballet to every Italian city and theatre, and she became very popular in our country. Her shows were often written and directed by Menegatti, who frequently created a theatrical ballet based on dance history. Her husband also supported Fracci when, in the latter part of her career, she took on the direction of Rome Opera Ballet for ten years, creating an interesting repertoire, inviting dancers and choreographers and nurturing a good corps de ballet. With her strong temperament, she defended the Rome company from political speculations, while in her final years her main regret was not to have had the opportunity to create and lead a new national ballet company. Spurred on by her husband, Fracci was the first Italian ballerina to appear in TV programmes, revealing her great talent as an entertainer and actress. Although this attracted some criticism, Fracci, who last performed on stage a few years ago, always claimed she was proud of her mission. In fact, in Italy she portrayed the essence of a true ballerina, and at her every appearance she would find herself surrounded by teenagers - who never saw her dancing - asking for a selfie with her.

In recent times she continued to attend, as an acclaimed guest of honour, dance competitions, events and awards, and the opening of dance schools. She remained very beautiful, attired in her white dresses, and always ready to talk to everyone, to offer a memory, advice or a recommendation, or even a criticism if necessary. We will miss her entrance at the premieres of La Scala, on her husband’s arm, greeted by the applause of the public and by a “brava Carla!” shouted from the gallery, before taking her seat in the stalls surrounded by admirers of all ages. Carla Fracci’s last appearance in her theatre will be in the funeral chamber of La Scala’s foyer, as an eternally luminous étoile.

             Valentina Bonelli

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1955 - Carla Fracci as Cinderella. © Erio Piccagliani

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1964 - Carla Fracci as Giselle. © Erio Piccagliani

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1966 - Carla Fracci and Rudolf Nureyev in The Sleeping Beauty. © Erio Piccagliani

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2021 - Carla Fracci on stage at Teatro alla Scala after a performance of Giselle for which she coached the dancers.
© Brescia e Amisano/Teatro alla Scala

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1983 - Carla Fracci and Gheorghe Iancu in Giselle.
© Lelli Masotti