Daughter of a Milanese tram driver and his wife, a factory worker, Ms. Fracci grew up in modest circumstances. Through relentless training and seemingly innate artistry, she became a global superstar, once hailed by the New York Times like the “prima ballerina assoluta”.
She appeared on stage over the years with Erik Bruhn, Rudolf Nureyev, Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, among other prominent dancers of her time. In the 1960s and 1970s, she was one of the principal guest artists at the American Ballet Theater in New York.
But she was perhaps more associated with the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where she became the star dancer in 1958. Aspiring as a young girl to become a hairdresser, she had enrolled in the La Scala dance school at the 9 or 10 years old only at the insistence of friends of the family who observed in her a natural elegance.
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La Scala is one of Europe’s premier opera houses and, with Ms Fracci on stage, it has generated strong interest in its ballet offerings. Over a spectacularly long career, she gave seminal performances of 19th-century romantic ballets – chief among them”Gisele», the story of an innocent peasant girl betrayed by a nobleman, set to music by Adolphe Adam.
“It has often been remarked how Fracci’s dark-eyed beauty is reminiscent of prints of famous nineteenth-century ballerinas of the Romantic era,” dance critic Alan M. Kriegsman wrote in The Washington Post in a 1977 review. “As her Giselle again confirmed, it’s more than just a likeness. Her loyalty to the ethereal pallor of the romantic style is what has made her one of the most notable performers of roles such as Gisel.
“Beyond the overall stylistic observance, she also brings to the role her own particular, touching and tragic severity,” Kriegsman continued. “In the famous madness scene concluding the first act, for example, once she’s smitten, she’s totally enveloped in the pathos of her situation.”
Ms. Fracci danced in “Tchaikovsky”Nutcracker” and “Swan Laketwo pillars of 19th century ballet. She played the female lead in “Romeo and Juliet,” with choreography created expressly for her by John Cranko, as well as Cinderella in Prokofiev’s imagination of the classic fairy tale.
Madame Fracci was the enchanting forest spirit of “La Sylphide” and Swanilda in the comic opera “Coppélia”. In one of the most modern entries in her repertoire, she played Lizzie Borden, the Massachusetts woman tried and acquitted of murdering her parents in the late 1800s, in the 1948 ballet “Fall River Legend” choreographed by Agnes de Mille.
But it was “Giselle” who remained Ms. Fracci’s business card until the end of her career.
“Miss Fracci had the last romantic word,” Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote in 1991, revision a performance of “Giselle” at the American Ballet Theater when Ms. Fracci was 54. “In the final set of rapid lifts, his foot seemed to barely touch the ground. It was the image others have never matched, the airy specter that seems to soar from a lithograph.
Madame Fracci inhabited the role so well that Bruhn once pointed out to him: “But, Carla, a metamorphosis has taken place, you have become Giselle.”
Carolina Fracci was born on August 20, 1936 in Milan, where her father’s tram line passed through La Scala. When her daughter was in training, an article in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported, he rang his bell three times to signal that he was thinking of her.
Ms Fracci’s mother, who worked in a car factory, was from Cremona in the Po Valley in northern Italy, where the family took refuge after bombings in World War II. Mrs. Fracci’s son said she remembers those years among the farmers as the happiest of her life.
The family returned to Milan after the war, and in 1946 Ms. Fracci enrolled in the dance school at La Scala. It was “crushing boredom and terrible drudgery, until the day I was cast as the mandolin girl in ‘Sleeping Beauty,'” she told The Times in 1981.” Once on stage, next to Margot Fonteyn, I suddenly changed my mind. Dancing in front of an audience was something completely different from dancing in school. I started working very hard to make up for lost time. .
Ms Fracci made one of her first public appearances at La Scala in 1955 in a presentation following a performance of Bellini’s opera ‘La Sonnambula’ featuring soprano Maria Callas under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. The ballerina’s official La Scala debut came soon after, when French-born dancer Violette Verdy was unable to take the stage in “Cinderella,” and Ms. Fracci was called in to replace her.
In 1964, Ms. Fracci married Beppe Menegatti, a theater manager who served as assistant to director Luchino Visconti. Besides her husband, from Milan, and her son, from Rome, survivors include a sister and two grandchildren.
Ms Fracci is said to have been a distant relative of Giuseppe Verdi and, in a foray into TV theatre, played his second wife, soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, in a TV mini-series about the 19th-century opera composer broadcast in Italy in the 1980s.
During the last years of her career, Ms. Fracci helped shape classical dance in Italy as director of the ballet companies of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, the Arena in Verona and the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. . From 2009 to 2014 she was cultural manager of the city of Florence, a role in which she continued her long defense of the arts in Italy.
“You can’t just relax and say I’m here, star or star,” she told Newsday in 1991, reflecting on her career. “You just can’t let go and say, ‘This is my performance. I have never been like this. . . never, not at first, never. You always wonder more. You have to believe in what you are doing and never stop.
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