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La Scala—Amarcord and Carmen


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This was originally posted on ballet.co

La Scala — Live in Southern California

How to start... ok, first impressions...

The venue: Orange County Performing Arts Center in Southern California. Lovely modern facility with really uncomfortable seats! Or maybe they just seemed that way because I had been driving two hours to get there.

I had a “good” seat — 13 rows back and dead center. A great seat! Site lines looked to be good from anywhere in the house. Row M orchestra is pretty close to the stage.

The man sitting next to me was wearing either an old leather jacket or a vinyl one — that squeaked when he moved. Disconcerting to say the least. :-) And then he would open up these paper-wrapped candies. Thank heavens he didn’t do that too much.

I was very concerned about sitting still, which is nearly impossible for me, but after reading some of the comments here about twitchy people I sat as still as possible. Only shifting about during stage changes. Y’all would have been proud of me. :-)

Amarcord: The audience let out a gasp as the curtain rose on the set of life-size dolls hanging in multiple rows across the back of the set. Very stark, very interesting.

Not sure what it meant - more of the townspeople hanging around the square, or maybe representing civilian war dead.

I liked this dance - very contemporary ballet with great energy by all the cast. Too long, bits and pieces could have been cut out without disturbing the flow of the story.

Wonderful dance by principal Vittorio D’Amato as the Father and corps member Raffaella Benaglia as the Mother.

Another stand out was soloist Sabrina Brazzo as Gradisca and Maurizio Licitra as Titta.

One of the reviewers mentioned Murru as the cross-dressing German officer. I must have missed something because I did NOT see any cross dressing. Maybe Murru just looked so good as a girl I didn’t notice anything amiss.

His Amarcord German officer pdd and solo work were good if a little understated. Rather reserved I think.

He is much taller than the rest of the troupe - one of my first thoughts when the dancers took the stage was they were short...most of them anyway. I expected the women to be short, I didn’t expect the men to be so.

Four taller men played the Fascist soldiers who were very good and very handsome. Couldn’t help but notice that — they were REALLY handsome.

The audience loved the piece. Many curtain calls, bravos and bravas as the dancers bowed. In particular the male dancers were very strong, and not just in their leaps and turns.

The whole cast seemed to really enjoy dancing and they were very skilled. Their smiles during the curtain calls seemed genuine and honest. Murru was somber. I wonder if he can smile or if he is just so “star” that he has to appear morose.

And the real reason I went: Carmen.

The very opening number had the dancers all dancing with cigarettes and it caused quite a bit of verbal commenting — like a whisper of noise running through the house with a word understood here and there.

I don’t think smoking on stage is common in US ballets????

Murru’s solo early in the ballet was strange. Not because of his dancing but because there was this chanting going on in the corps which was posed behind him.

Like in his big jumps they were saying something like “ka-boom” or some such in Italian. The audience laughed.

It took away from the moment you might say. Then the chanting really got going accompanied by hand slapping rhythmically on the stage.

Poor guy. How can a danseur compete against that?!

I am not sure of the name, but the soloist in this ballet - dancing in the red corset - was really good and fiery. I almost thought she was Carmen!

There were some real standouts in this ballet including the Toreador - Francesco Ventriglia.

There was much dancing with chairs, which caused more audience comment...why chairs? And one poor girl, after leaping from chair to chair across several chairs - fell as she went off stage.

Durante: It was great to see her live. She either has cut her hair REALLY short or she had on a wig that really didn’t look like a wig.

Her entrance was rather a let down. There was so much going on before she came on stage it was hard to figure out what was what.

I have seen her in several MacMillan pieces I have on video so I was expecting more emotion than was actually there.

In her first big solo she fell off pointe early on coming out of a small turn which made the audience gasp. It was SO unexpected. She recovered quickly and I didn’t see any more broken moves the rest of the ballet.

And then a really strange thing, when she snapped open her fan it split in half. So instead of hiding her face behind it and peering over the top, she was peeking out between two halves.

I can just imagine the curses going through her mind when that happened!

Her bedroom scene with Murru was grand - but again, there was something missing - a passion or something. She did all the moves technically perfect and I had tears running down my face at the end because her dancing is so lyrically beautiful, her line and extensions are amazing, but there was no real connection to Murru.

Most of her solo he sat in the corner smoking, which caused some consternation in the folks around me. Perhaps the lack of passion was due to his remoteness.

The ending scene where Don Jose kills Carmen is visually very exciting and Durante danced beautifully and again a sigh from the audience when she died. Very moving.

Then the troupe came on and that was that.

I thought to myself - Is that all there is? And the squeaking-jacket-paper-crackling man said “Is that all there is?”

Then, as the dancers were taking their final calls he said about Murru, “boy, that guy was sure lethargic.”

He was right. The corps men were so much more energetic and feeling. Murru was just there.

I am glad I went, Durante was worth the price of the ticket, I just wish there had been more of her!

Tonight - Giselle!


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Thanks very much for posting that, Lara. I was especially interested in your reports on audience reaction to Carmen. That ballet was a hit on Broadway for six months in 1948! (Another indication of how tastes can change.) The cigarette smoking would have seemed very sophisticated then; this was nearly two decades before the Surgeon General's report. Chairs and chanting were seen as very avant-garde. There's a video of Zizi and Roland Petit, who created the leading roles, called "Black Tights" that you might be able to rent, if you're curious. The thought of a passionless "Carmen" is very sad to me -- it used to be a real sizzler! Not a great ballet, IMO, but it can be great fun.

I didn't realize La Scala was already on our shores. I hope we'll have other reports, on this program and on the "Giselle." It's a traditional production, with changes, from what I've read.

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I will be seeing Carmen next week in NY but I was expecting Alessandra Ferri..I was a bit puzzled when I read recently that she is expecting a baby...does anyone know who will be dancing in NY? Alexandra, I know I am hopelessly dating myself, but I saw that Carmen back in 1948--more than once! There is also a tape out with Jeanmaire and Baryshnikov--but the chemistry is not there.Petit and Jeanmaire sizzled.

As for "Amarcord", I'm sure it would help if you are familiar with the Fellini film. I am looking forward to this, because I understand they are using the background music of the film.

[ 07-13-2001: Message edited by: atm711 ]

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I attended both the Tuesday and Wednesday night performances of this program since I wanted to see as much of Viviana Durante as I could.

I greatly enjoyed "Amarcord." The music was mostly from Nino Rota's score from the film, with additional pieces by A. Schnittke, Glenn Miller ("In the Mood"), and M. Schiavoni. (Felix Mendelssohn is uncredited in the program, but his Wedding March from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is also used.)

I wouldn't describe "Amarcord" as a contemporary ballet. If we use the term "Contemporary Ballet" here to describe the fusion of ballet with modern dance, what term should we use for something like "Amarcord" which is a fusion of ballet with show dancing? (How would one describe Balanchine's "Union Jack?") The choreography here (by Luciano Cannito), while using mainly a ballet volcabulary, had the energy and exuberance of a musical.

Whatever one calls it, I found the choreography a perfect fit to the music and the dramatic structure of the ballet, soundly and logically constructed. It was also great fun to watch. The cast of excellent dancers performed with enthusiasm and joy, fully acting as well as dancing their roles. I found both viewings to be exhilarating. (But I know one Ballet Talk member who hated it, and expect there are several of you out there who will not like it.)

"Carmen" was first performed in 1949, and looks it. The choreography, especially for the leads, is very idiosyncratic and probably only really works on the original dancers.

The weakness in these performances was, as Lara said, a lack of connection between the leads, similar to the lack of sizzle that one sees in the Jeanmarie-Baryshnikov video. Massimo Murro had the same detached air in this work that he had as the Nazi officer in "Amarcord." There it fit; here it's fatal. He seemed more like a disinterested observer than a man overcome by passion.

But Viviana (wearing a Zizi-gamine wig) was a joy to see, anyway. (How can such a tiny gal have such long legs?) Alas, the role of Carmen in this ballet is fairly one-note, so she didn't have the opportunity to bring much of her dramatic qualities to bear. But unlike some dancers who are known as "dramatic," Viviana also has terrific technique to draw on, and got to display it here.

She had trouble with that fan in both performances. In the first, it flew out of her hand at the end of her solo. After a slight pause while she thought about what to do about it, she gave a slight body motion that expressed not "oops" but a very haughty, in-character "Damn!" She then swooped to pick it up on her way to tap Don Jose with it, staying on the music throughout. The second night, as Lara reported, it split on her.

The rest of the cast of "Carmen" performed beautifully, especially Beatrice Carbone. But after "Amarcord" with its propulsive momentum and dramatic continuity, The episodic "Carmen" with its spikey, mechanistic choreography was unfulfilling. The program would be improved by performing "Carmen" first.


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Originally posted by lara:

I don’t think smoking on stage is common in US ballets????

I was told by a POB dancer that every time they dance that ballet, there are a few dancers who had stopped smoking who start smoking again...

There's also a cigarette in Petit's "Le jeune homme et la mort". Probably smoking was fac, back then.

Murru’s solo early in the ballet was strange. Not because of his dancing but because there was this chanting going on in the corps which was posed behind him.

Like in his big jumps they were saying something like “ka-boom” or some such in Italian. The audience laughed.

Actually, it's French, not Italian (it's some lyrics from Bizet's opera). I don't remember it exactly, but I think what sounded like "ka-boom" probably was "l'amour"

(in the song "l'amour est enfant de bohême").

Carmen looks a bit outdated now, but it also depends a lot on the interprets. I appreciated it quite a lot when I saw it last season at the Paris Opera (with Gaida and Belarbi), and also a few seasons before in Marseille (with Assylmuratova and Broeckx).

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>>>>Like in his big jumps they were saying something like “ka-boom” or some such in Italian. The audience laughed.


Actually, it's French, not Italian (it's some lyrics from Bizet's opera). I don't remember it exactly, but I think what sounded like "ka-boom" probably was "l'amour"

(in the song "l'amour est enfant de bohême").<<<<

Thanks for clearing that up!


I am really glad you concurred with my thoughts on Carmen, Murru and Durante. She is the reason I didn't go to work that day and went to the ballet instead. Her dance was impeccable, I just wish there was more of it!

I really want to see her in one of the Macmillan roles she does so well. I would probably fly to England to see Mayerling!

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In defense of an (at times) "passionless" portrayal of Don Jose, I think that dramatically the piece depends upon the portrayal of a conflict within Don Jose between his passion for Carmen and what should be his better sense. He is a man of a better class than her, possibly an official or a policeman. She is more one dimensional. If it's conflict that drives drama, the conflict which should drive the piece is, first of all, a conflict within Don Jose and only then a conflict between Don Jose and Carmen. In a shallow dramatization it's easy for the first to get lost and for the dancers to portray nothing but the second. I think Murru in the bedroom scene was attempting to play it according to the book.

The bedroom scene is the morning after their night of love. Don Jose is both empty, remorseful (realizing his fall but unable still to resist it), but also pretending not to respond to Carmen's autoerotic dance. It's a kind of passive aggression towards her on his part, a last assertion of his will, until finally she arouses him and he bursts into passion -- an aggressive sexual response towards her. His lust for her, and his hatred of her (and for himself) should be evident here.

Last night, at the Lincoln Center festival, I agree that much of this nuance was not well conveyed. But, between Durante and Murru, it was he who made more of an attempt.

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Thanks for the great explanation of what the emotions between Carmen and Don Jose should be. I am not at all familiar with this ballet so your words were particularly helpful in retrospect.


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