Carla Fracci Photo by Francesco Squeglia

Carla Fracci dies at 84.

The Milan-born ballerina faced her fatal disease with great reserve. She has always been the brightest Italian ballet star. Italy’s president Mattarella says “she has honoured our country with her elegance and her artistic commitment”

It is told that once Charlie Chaplin said to her, “You are wonderful” after seeing her dancing.

Italy’s most famous and celebrated ballet dancer, Carla Fracci, has died today at the age of 84. She had been suffering from cancer, but faced the disease with great reserve.

She has always been, indisputably, the true queen of Italian dance.

She was born in Milan in August 1936 and, in some ways, always remained true to her Milan origins, in spite of having become one of the world’s most renowned ballet stars. A tram driver’s daughter, Fracci has always remembered that her father used to ring the tram bell three times while crossing Piazza della Scala in order to make her know that he was around and was thinking of her, while she was at the barre.

She entered the ballet school of La Scala in 1946 before joining the company and becoming Prima ballerina in 1958. As a child she wanted to be a hairdresser, though.

She became an internationally acclaimed star due to her dramatic approach to dancing and to both her technical skills and her lightness, and left La Scala in 1963 to pursue an international career.

Eminent ballet companies she appeared with include the Royal Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet and the Stuttgart Ballet – she  inspired John Cranko’s first production of Romeo and Juliet.

Many among the great male dancers of her generation got the chance to be her stage partners.

With Rudolf Nureyev in “The Nutcraker” 1970

Rudolf Nureyev partnered her several times, including when they danced together two of the most difficult ballets choreographed by Russian dancer – The Nutcracker and Don Quijote. “A great dancer and choreographer” she wrote, “but also a very difficult man, competitive, eccentric, fickle, unpredictable, moody, temperamental, sometimes so awful as to behave badly onstage with those who were dancing with him”.

Her partnership with Erik Bruhn is mythical and seemed to reach perfection – their Giselle is still considered a model, a point of reference. Fracci, after all, was renowned for her interpretation of great romantic ballets, and Giselle become her signature role in many ways.

In the late Sixties she became, among others, Principal guest with the American Ballet Theatre. In 1981 the New York Times called her Prima Ballerina Assoluta. “Miss Fracci […] has managed to attract vast audiences and has brought many unsuspecting people closer to this mysterious art which is ballet” the newspaper wrote. “Thanks to her, new ballet schools sprouting up like mushrooms, and ballet is enjoying a renaissance in Italy”.

30-minute curtain calls were not rare for her.

Later in her life she directed several Italian ballet companies, including the one of the Rome Opera.

She was married since 1964 to director Beppe Menegatti.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in a statement, “Carla Fracci has honoured our country with her elegance and her artistic commitment”, calling her “one of the greatest classical dancers of our time”.

Last February she had received the COVID vaccine. Of course, in her city, Milan. One of her last public statement was to urge everyone to do so. “I hope the sceptics will change their mind” Carla Fracci said before being vaccinated, “we should all be vaccinated, it is important for everyone”.

Alessandro Bizzotto