Although this streaming of Giselle by La Scala’s ballet company was an intriguing event of important sentiment, it led to a performance that was weakened by the conceptual necessity of interval substitutions. Filmed over two days, without an audience, it was truly a tale of two halves with an alternating cast of principals in each act. For me, it was an experiment that undermined the ballet’s essential magic.

The Wilis, Act 2
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The performance followed Carla Fracci’s masterclasses with the dancers over the two preceding days. La Scala’s ballet director, Manuel Legris, had brought the great ballerina (now aged 84) back to the theatre where it all started for her, to coach these young dancers ahead of the performance. Fracci danced the role of Giselle at La Scala and worldwide from 1958 to 1990, partnering some of the greatest dancers of the age as her Albrecht, including Rudolf Nureyev, Erik Bruhn, Vladimir Vasiliev and Andris Liepa (but, so far as I know, only one at a time)! 

Debuting as the Giselle of Act 1, Martina Arduino was a triumph. The crisp precision of her footwork was splendid and her expressive journey from demure lovelorn maiden to the sudden realisation of having been deceived by Albrecht was captivating. Arduino’s “mad” scene was surprisingly under-stated and gentle, eschewing the more typical rush of manic movement and tousled hair in favour of a softer interpretation of subdued shock and uncertainty. I would have given much to have seen how her performance continued into the second act! Claudio Coviello drew the short straw of Act 1 Albrecht, starting as a joker and ending as a cad, while enjoying the least of the dance content.

Martina Arduino (Giselle) and Claudio Coviello (Albrecht), Act 1
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

After an interval discussion (in Italian) with Fracci and Legris, Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko took over the roles for the second act, neither bearing the slightest resemblance to their characters in Act 1. Nonetheless, their performances were excellent, investing a magical aura to the meeting of heartbroken Albrecht and the spirit of Giselle, particularly in the tenderness of their pas de deux; both dancers having an exceptional lightness to their jumps.

The woodsman Hilarion kept the same interpreter for both acts with Marco Agostino giving a strong and expressive account although I found Hilarion’s assassination by the Wilis to be a rather rushed affair. The peasants’ pas de deux was danced arrestingly by Antonella Albano and Nicola Del Freo. As Myrtha, Virna Toppi started nervously, not helped by the close-up intimacy of the filming, but she quickly grew into the role, devouring the space in the allegro part of her opening solo, scything through the air with powerful jetés. Her Queen of the Wilis was both impassive and imperious. As the ghostly community of Wilis, the corps de ballet was outstanding in the unity of their attractive patterns and shaping.

Nicoletta Manni (Giselle) and Tomofej Andrijashenko (Albrecht), Act 2
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Yvette Chauviré’s venerable production is beautifully designed (set and costumes by Alexander Benois) with Act 2 taking place at Giselle’s graveside just outside the hallowed ground of a church. Koen Kessels, perhaps the most itinerant of all ballet conductors, conducted La Scala’s orchestra in a sumptuous performance of Adolphe Adam’s smooth, melodic score. 

The ballet was filmed in association with the state television network and offered via the RaiPlay online service and, given this pedigree, it suffered from some strange directorial choices with the dancers’ feet occasionally cut-off in a tendency towards extreme close-ups and an unnatural foreshortening of angles, which gave the odd, three-dimensional impression of the action being funnelled, front-to-back, particularly in Act 1. One camera could sometimes be seen in longer shots – an unwanted space invader – as a rapidly moving black blob hurtling back and forth across the foot of the screen.

Giselle at La Scala
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The fact that this performance of Giselle was touched by the teaching of one of its greatest exponents inevitably brought something very special to the experience. I suspect that it will be a career highlight for these dancers and their performances were a credit to both their director and guest teacher even if the two halves didn’t make for a satisfying whole!

This performance was reviewed from the RaiPlay live video stream