Antonieta Dell'Era (1861 -
All pioneers suffer in some way from their trailblazing. So it is with the unfortunate Dell'Era, who was the first to dance the ballerina role in The Nutcracker.
Until 1886, the Imperial Theaters had a license monopoly on productions in St. Petersburg, and before that, it was not possible for independent producers to mount operas, plays or ballets. When the monopoly broke, private productions of French and German operettas began to appear in the city, and Dell'Era, who had had a successful career at the Berlin Opera, came to dance in them. She was apparently rather vivacious, and soon became an audience favorite. Popular sentiment clamored for her appearance at the Maryinsky, and the management assented to the demand. She had been scheduled to make her debut at the house as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, but elected to wait for the new production, in which a role could be tailored to her talents.
She had been the first in St. Petersburg of what came to be called "the Italian Invasion", with brilliant technicians like Virginia Zucchi, Carlotta Brianza and Enrico Cecchetti. These dancers soon developed their own fans, with Pierina Legnani soon to follow them to Russia, but Establishment resentment against the foreigners seems to have lingered with Dell'Era, and all settled upon her. One Maryinsky dancer applied the ultimate dancer damnation: "she's FAT!" Even Marius Petipa, usually given to gentleness in his Golden Days, and in his still-broken-after-all these-years Russian, said something like, "She ain't good, but she's what we got."
In her defense, at least one photograph of Dell'Era exists, and she does not appear any more roly-poly than the other Rubensesque ballerinas of her day, and if the currently-known Ivanov choreography for the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is indeed a survival from her creation, she can't have been too bad.
Alas, poor Dell'Era - no standard reference is quite certain of her birth year, specific background and training, and even the year of her death.