Spotlight: Carlotta Brianza

This week's Spotlight Saturday features Italian prima ballerina Carlotta Brianza.

Born in 1867 in Milan, Italy, Brianza trained under Carlos Blasis at the La Scala Ballet School. She made her debut as prima ballerina with the La Scala Ballet in Manzotti's Excelsior. In 1883, she toured America in a production of the ballet, and in 1887 performed it in St. Petersburg at the Arcadia Theatre.

Above: Postcard image from an unknown ballet; below: either as Aurora in Act II of 'The Sleeping Beauty', or in 'The Haarlem Tulip'

Her impact on audiences was much the same as Pierina Legnani; she stunned and thrilled with her vibrant Italian style and virtuoso technique. She was soon the favoured guest artist in St. Petersburg, and was eventually hired by the Imperial Mariinsky Ballet. She made her debut with the company in the lead role of Lev Ivanov's 1889 ballet The Haarlem Tulip.

Above and below: In 'La Esmeralda', c. 1890

In 1890, Marius Petipa created one of his most famous ballets: The Sleeping Beauty. He chose Brianza to dance the lead role, that of Princess Aurora, her most famous role. She also created the lead roles in the 1890 ballet La Esmeralda, and the 1891 ballet Kalkabrinko. She left Russia shortly afterwards, touring Europe and dancing in Vienna, Italy, Paris, and London.

Above: As Princess Aurora in 'The Sleeping Beauty', 1890; below: with Pavel Gerdt in 'The Sleeping Beauty', 1890

Brianza then retired to teach ballet in Paris. In 1921, the proprietor of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, brought Brianza out of retirement for his company's London season. Brianza aided Bronislava Nijinksa in staging the company's first full-length work, the four-act The Sleeping Princess, an adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty. The production followed Petipa's choreography, restaged by Brianza, with additional dances by Nijinska. Brianza also danced the role of Carabosse, in her last appearance on stage, at the premiere on November 2 1921. The production nearly bankrupted the company, who were banned from performing in England for the next three years.

There are a number of interesting surviving images of the original cast for 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Above: Brianza as Aurora mimes pricking her finger while the King and Queen panic; below: just before the incident, with Brianza (centre) as Aurora, Giuseppina Cecchetti as the Queen (to her right), and Felix Krzesinksi as the King (on Brianza's left).

Meanwhile, little is known of what became of Carlotta Brianza in the last years of her life. Even her date of death is uncertain; various sources give 1930 or 1935, but it is certain that she died in Paris, of a possible suicide.

Above: Brianza in her role as Carabosse in the 1921 Ballets Russes production 'The Sleeping Princess'; below: lithograph or sketch of Brianza included in an Italian newspaper article.

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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