Il Lago Dei Cigni (Swan Lake), Rome Opera Ballet, Teatro dell’Opera, Rome, Saturday, October 14, 2006
In a prologue, Odette, danced for the first time by Cuban-trained Sadaise Arencibia, enters the stage and our consciousness not in the second act, but in the opening moments of this version, in tandem with Rothbart, danced by Damiano Mongelli. The set they dance before, with its moonlit, wind-churned lake encircled by bare-bough trees, suggests that something both tantalizing and dangerous is in the offing. Odette bourées off into the blackness and a new scene opens on Prince Siegfried’s birthday ball. Here we find a salon, richly appointed much in the style of a grand salon at a European opera house, so that you feel as though the festivities are taking place in a room adjacent to the one you’re seated in. Siegfried is costumed in blue, and the others in aquamarine. Hunters arrive dressed in green, along with the two friends of Siegfried, danced by Sara Loro and Anjella Kouznetsova. The sequined aquamarine ball gowns are reminiscent of an earlier age of costuming, when tulle was used not only for tutus, but other costumes as well. Accented by very antique-looking tiaras, the effect is wholly Italianate and convincingly regal. The gleaming and sometimes blinding sculptures that line the ballroom are less captivating, but happily they disappear after this first exposure. I have been led to expect little of this company, and am happily surprised by the corps work, though feet are sometimes winged to the extent that they don’t look pointed.
Carla Fracci, the company’s artistic director is dancing the role of The Regent, and her startling entrance in a silver blue gown, embossed with sequins, draws a storm of applause from the audience. If critics complain that she writes herself too large and too often into company productions, they must also admit, as is the case tonight, that the house is full when she dances, audiences want her, come to see her, and her presence on the stage is a reminder of her enormous authority as a dancer and an artist who is among the greatest of the 20th Century. She moves powerfully, with sumptuous arms, and her enchanting line continues to draw the collective eye of the house. There is a lovely tempi in the pas de trois, and the scene ends with the presentation of the golden bow to Siegfried. The bow is oversized, maybe deliberately so—to illustrate that he is a bit overwhelmed by the tasks that the bow, and his birthday, imply. Fabio Grossi is perfectly cast as Siegfried, and wins us over from the very beginning with generous gestures and airy jumps that open his heart to the audience. One of the two women soloists is like a junior version of the young Fracci, very light, with quick feet.
Act II takes us back to the lake. Against the darkness, the gleaming bow is beginning to look more like an anchor. Rothbart is perched on the upstage rock, prepared to observe what is to follow. He is demonic and on a mission. Odette bourées in, and we see that Arencibia was born to dance this role. She is long-limbed and possessed of the quietude and depth that is at the very core of the character. Besides those basics, she has mastered the gestural and mimetic skills. The arms are not only long, but deliciously supple, and she uses them fully to attract Siegfried’s attention. Her sadness seems to go deeper than the role demands, captured in the impeccable foot work of her tremulous coup de pied, as if it were a permanent feature of not only the character, but the dancer. Her initial (violin) pas de deux with Grossi doesn’t demonstrate much of the chemistry between them, but as the ballet builds, so does their relationship, so that by the evening’s end, we care deeply that they come to a tragic end. The three characters are perfectly cast to play off each other and a pas de trois in the second act is brilliant for this reason.
Act III has a few disappointments, but then, this reviewer has never been totally satisfied with the divertissement choreography in any version she has seen, and these dancers don’t seem to like them any better than I do. While overall, the costumes for this production are handsomely crafted, and offer much to admire, the divertissement costumes are mostly the color of unbleached muslin, bordered with gold, and fail to evoke the identity of the countries of origin of the various dances. A curious element in this version is that instead of the infiltration of black swans into the final act, we have black horsemen in the third, who foreshadow the final act’s tragic events. Odile’s entrance and seduction of Siegfried is among the best I have seen. Arencibia has abandoned her sad, wistful self and taken on the persona of an animal enchantress. We finally see some lifts, and they are extraordinary, as the couple’s puerile temperature rises with them. There are saut de basques that bubble like soda, and the gestural detail of hand to chest, intended to suggest that what is really false is genuine, is quite effective. Siegfried’s variation is large and loaded with passion. The conductor slows the music a bit too much, so that landings are emphasized instead of the arcs of the jumps.
The finale lives up to the portents in Act III. Rothbart is not a conflicted evil-doer bearing the legacy of a complicated social history. He is just evil, and gets what’s coming to him. It could be said that this is a much more Italian interpretation, and it makes the dénouement unambiguous, which cannot be said of other versions I have seen.
It has been an evening full of drama, romance, and danger. The company is uneven. One or two soloists could stand to work on turns and other technical aspects, but overall, the production is rather thrilling for the audience. Appreciation abounds with a standing ovation during multiple curtain calls. Fracci is celebrated in all of them, and is clearly a figure whose artistry and staying power are cherished by her friends, Romans and countrymen.