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At the end of July and the first few days of August 1970. American Ballet Theatre visited the Royal Opera House. They brought such great names as Cynthia Gregory, Sallie Wilson, Han Enelaar and Erik Bruhn. But the greatest of all was Carla Fracci. I saw her at the height of her career in her greatest role one balmy August night nearly 51 years ago.
Although I was only 21 at the time I had already seen several productions of Giselle by the Royal Ballet and other companies. And I have seen countless productions since then. Many of these have been good and some have been great such as Lauren Cuthvertson's of 2 April 2016 (see Cuthbertson's Giselle 3 April 2016). None of them has equalled Fracci's performance that evening in August. I can't remember who was her Albrecht. I think it must have been Bruhn but I didn't pay him or for that matter, any other dancer much attention because Fracci commanded the stage in a way that I had never seen before or since. Every detail of every scene from her exit from the cottage in Act I to her descent into her grave in Act II is recorded in my memory as though it were a film.
When I saw that performance of Giselle I was a Young Friend of Covent Garden. As such I received 2 sheets of ticket vouchers every month that enabled me to sit in the L to Ps of the amphitheatre stalls for just a few shillings. I think I visited the House just about every night. I remember a very rich and varied programme that included Swan Lake and Giselle but also Balanchine, de Mille and Tudor. But nothing stuck in my memory like Fracci's Giselle. She literally took my breath away. For her acting which you can see in this clip as well as her virtuosity.
I never saw Fracci again after that tour. I think the company returned in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's silver jubilee but I don't remember Fracci. An army of obituarists and biographers have charted her career since her death 4 days ago. It would have been necessary to refer to their work to write one of my own. In this blog, I try to be original. There is happily a lot of video footage of Fracci at the height of her career which I am gratefully working through now, Misquoting Nero, qualis artifex obiit.