Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It was Carla Fracci's evening. To begin with, it was a kind of reentry for the Italian ballerina. The performance of "Giselle" Tuesday night by American Ballet Theater, opening the company's three-week visit, marked Fracci's return to the Kennedy Center after five years. More than that, though, it was her sensitive portrayal of the woebegone heroine that kept the performance from succumbing wholly to a bad case of the blahs.
The production as a whole looked soiled and run down. That may not be surprising, since the company was coming to it after a New York season that included a solid week of "Giselle," followed by a wearying tour. It scarcely made for a glowing opening night, however.
It has often been remarked how Fracci's dark-eyed beauty reminds one of prints of the celebrated 19th century ballerinas of the romantic era. As her Giselle again confirmed, it is more than a mere resemblance. Her fidelity to the wan ethereality of the romantic style is what has made her one of the outstanding exponents of roles such as Giselle.
Beyond the overall stylistic observance, she also brings to the part her own special, touching, tragic severity. In the celebrated mad scene concluding the first act, for example, once she is stricken she is totally enveloped by the pathos of her situation.
When the score recalls earlier, happier moments of her infatuation with Albrecht, Fracci does not, like most other interpreters, escape momentarily into remembered bliss. We can see Fracci's recollection, but we also never lose sight of the pain that has clouded it over for good.
She had some trouble warming up - even the sprightly little ballonnes which are Giselle's signature step were indistinct the first few times out. Nowhere in the evening, in fact, did her technique have quite the cutting edge displayed five years back. But she won a deserved ovation for the long sequence in the second act where she begs mercy for Albrecht, and in which her phrasing was full of doleful entreaty and tender grace.
No one else in the cast was quite on Fracci's plane. Ivan Nagy cut his usual noble figure as Albrecht. Virtuosity was never his strong point, however, and Tuesday night he looked especialy strained. His interpretation, moreover, seemed excessively aloof, making Albrecht more or a rotter than ever - anoble rake trifling with a country girl's affections, remorseless until her death finally shakes his conscience and emotion.
The role of Myrta, the Queen of the Wilis, had the benefit of Martine van Hamel's magisterial style and presence, but even her performance seemed abnormally subdued. In the evenings 's context, Nanette Glushak's splendid dancing as Moyna was an especially gratifying bright spot. Terry Orr and Marianna Tcherkassky had their sparkling moments in the peasant pas de deux, but Tcherkassky was a typically slipshod here and there and the whole interpolation struck one as more extraneous to the drama than usual.
In a way, it's no wonder the performance couldn't generate much passion, given the singularly unsympathetic accout of Adolphe Adam's music. One could forgive the orchestra, under the direction of Akira Endo, its sloppy playing, but not the flat, rhythmically erratic, bloodless musicianship.