She was a great ballet dancer, Etoile at the San Carlo Theater, “La Scala”, London, Paris and Vienna. She danced with the “verve” of a real Neapolitan girl. She confronted with the great of his time: Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi and Fanny Elssler; she didn’t have not a good technique of ballet but she knew how to thrill audiences.
Francesca Teresa Giuseppa Raffaella Cerrito (Fanny was the stage name) was born in Naples in her father’s house in Via Pedamentina San Martino 6 (now Via S. Lucia a Monte) on 11 May 1817, next to the church of S. Maria Ognibene ai Sette Dolori in Montecalvario district; father Raffaele Cerrito of 28 years had served in the army of Joachim Murat then, with the Bourbon restoration, was passed in the army of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with the rank of infantry lieutenant, he was on duty at the military hospital a few steps from his home; her mother, Marianna D’Alife, 23 years was a housewife; Francesca had a brother, Giuseppe, three years older.
Francesca, who had a lively character, attended the three elementary classes at the Pious Schools near home. Her mother noted that she had talent for the dance and she enrolled her daughter in the dance school of San Carlo Theater, after the elementary school, recommended by Pier Angelo Fiorentino, a family friend who later became a renowned critic musical in London.
At first it seemed that the little girl was not particularly inclined to become a dancer then, under the guidance of dance teachers who were working in the theater, including the famous Peter Hus and Salvatore Taglioni, she became interested in the ballet art. Taglioni was the uncle of Maria Taglioni, one of the greatest ballerinas of the Romantic era, he was master of Anna, Therese and Fanny Elssler, who had been students at the San Carlo between 1825 and 1827. Francesca had difficulty to learn the technique of ballet because of her extremely extrovert nature, while she was very good on the stage for her verve and her presence.
On 28 July 1832 she, just 15 years old, made her debut at the “Teatro del Fondo” (now Mercadante theater) in the “pas de deux” of comic choreography “Horoscope” of Galzerani, where it was an instant success with the public. Francesca remedied immediately an engagement to Tordinona Theater in Rome following the excellent debut, where she represented three ballets of Galzerani: “Gli Empirici”, “I Tre Gobbi” and “Buondelmonte”, with so success that a “Beneficiata” show was granted to her in which half collection was in favor of performers.
In May of 1833 she returned to San Carlo representing two choreographies of Taglioni, just after she was to the theater La Pergola in Florence where she had an engagement for the 1833/34 season and where she met fourteen Carlotta Grisi, of which Francesca appreciated the quality of acting where she was not especially equipped. She was the habit of postponing her year of birth from 1817 to 1821 from that time, to look younger than Grisi.
In the season 1834/35 Francesca returned to Naples where she danced in various ballets to the “Teatro del Fondo” and to the San Carlo theater where, in “Amore e Psiche”, represented 30 May 1835, Carlotta Grisi interpreted “Amore” and she danced as “Iside”.
In 1836 the Kartnertor Vienna theater made a selection of dancers to reconstruct the ballet that resulted decimated for various events. Also some Italian dancers were selected including the Cerrito. She debuted with the ballet from the opera “Moses” by Rossini on 4 April. She took advantage of the presence in the Austrian capital of the great French master Jules Perrot, who was in Vienna with Carlotta Grisi that he would marry shortly after, to overcome, with his guide, her technical failures that she had because of her precocious debut.
She turned in Vienna on the rivalry with Fanny Elssler, the darling of the Austrian public. Francesca Cerrito was nicknamed “Fanny” in honor of Elssler by Viennese audiences, and she took it as a stage name, she was not afraid performing in the highlights of Fanny Elssler. She danced in the role of Amalia in “Ottavio Pinelli”, and danced the “Cachucha” who were the favorite roles of the Viennese dancer, having great success with the public, or at least that part of the public that does not sided with the Elssler.
She was engaged at La Scala in Milan following the Viennese successes, where in 1837 she debuted with “I Veneziani a Costantinopoli”. Fanny Cerrito had the opportunity to further study with the master Carlo Blasis and his wife Annunciata Ramaccini in Milan. She had reached the top of ability and La Scala audience rendered to her the triumph, The audience was divided in two parties, the “Cerritisti” sided with Fanny Cerrito and the “Taglionisti” sided with Maria Taglioni, who was born in Stockholm from Milan’s father and who depopulated on La Scala scenes from many years. Fanny played the “Cieca di Portici” in the role of an actress in the first season of La Scala on 26 December 1838, then, the same evening danced in the “La Foresta Incantata” by Rugoli, becoming the uncontested star of the Milanese theater, where she participated as a “Prima Ballerina” in all ballet performances of La Scala season.
Fanny Cerrito, now on top of international dance together with her friends-rivals Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Elssler and Maria Taglioni, was engaged at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where in mid-1840 she went with her whole family. In London she began her activities as a choreographer as well as a dancer with “Alma ou la fille du feu”, then she continued in a top of successes with “pas de fascination” in which she danced with Carlotta Grisi, showing her technique of dance and her talents of interpretation, after the further training courses made in Milan with Blasis master. In the same year also Maria Taglioni arrived in London; they performed in a pas de deux where Taglioni, by virtue of her great talent and experience, monopolized the attention of the public at the expense of Cerrito that resulted annoyed of it. Despite all the Fanny took part in a “benefited” evening in honor of her “opponent-friend” Taglioni.
In 1843, she had a confrontation with the other Fanny, the Elssler, at the top of her career, with which she danced together, at the personal request of Queen Victoria, in a “pas de deux” created especially for them two by Perrot. The Cerrito met the French dancer and choreographer Arthur Saint-Leon for the first time in London. She created an artistic link with the charming Saint-Leon, who was also a talented violinist, with the ballets “Alma” and “Silphide”, then she started also an affective link. April 17, 1845 the two were married in Les Batignolles, today district of Paris, despite the opposition of Fanny’s family, hoping by their pupil for a wedding with a noble and rich Englishman, in whose circles she received great success .
Meanwhile the manager Lumley was preparing the largest dance event of the century in London, he wanted to put together the four most famous ballerinas of the Romantic ballet in one “pas de quatre”: Maria Taglioni, Lucile Grahn, Fanny Cerrito, Carlotta Grisi. On June 12, 1845 this “pas de quatre” took place between two acts of “Anna Bolena”. Maria Taglioni proved to be the biggest, for the skill and experience, Grahn, which was the least popular of the four, was content to remain in the shadow of her more famous colleagues; instead there were sparks between Grisi and Cerrito already from the rehearsals, and they continued with a talent competition during the “pas”; eventually Cerrito won and the audience rewarded her with the second longest applause after that bestowed the Taglioni.
The Cerrito, perhaps because of the intense activities, had a nervous breakdown and could not participate in the scheduled performance of “Alma” in Turin at the 1846 carnival, during her tournée in Germany and Italy; the Neapolitan dancer continued a long around in the theaters of Europe dancing with her husband Saint-Leon, who made also performing as a violinist.
In 1947 Fanny finally had a call at the Paris Opera, following the replacement of the director, despite doubts about her validity who until then had held the employment of the same in Paris. The great successes in Europe and the fact that she was married to the great Arthur Saint-Leon convinced the new direction to make her show on the Opera stage. On 20 October she made her debut with “Alma” where Fanny danced in the company of her husband Arthur; the representation had great success, but she had negative views because of those small technical defaillances that she was hiding with the ardor and great stage presence. The success continued with a performance in the theater of Saint-Cloud palace commissioned by King Louis Philippe in which she performed in “Fille de Marbre”.
January 15, 1848, Fanny Cerrito donned a tutu tricolor in honor of libertarians and unit inspirations at that time pervaded Italy and the rest of Europe during a performance in Venice in the ballet “La Vivandiera”; Venice was on the threshold of the insurrection that would take it to become “republic” for a little season. The poor Fanny Elssler, of Austrian nationality, remedied to La Scala in Milan whistles instead of applause, because she represented, in the eyes of the Milan audience, the Austro-Hungarian oppression on Lombardo-Veneto.
The relationship disagreements started between Cerrito and Saint-Leon with the return to Paris; in 1850 Cerrito played in 1850 “Stelle” in the Opéra Theater, a Saint-Leon choreographed set in Naples in honor of the protagonist’s origins, and in which she made show of her verve, coupling the romanticism in vogue then with a all Neapolitan humor streak. It was one of the last works in which collaborated, since 1851 Fanny separated from her husband Arthur Saint-Leon both in life and in the dance. She continued her collaboration with the Opéra until 1854.
In 1851 she met a Spanish nobleman, Manuel Antonio de Acuña-de Witte di Bedmar, who had become lover of Fanny. In 1854, a bay was born as fruit of their union, to whom the name Matilde was given; the child was recognized by her father , who did not marry Fanny, although he continued to take an interest of mother and daughter. The Cerrito was forced to leave the scenes for some time because of pregnancy; when she resumed to dance she grew stout by birth, she was unable to perform in the ballets with the her usual verve.
In 1857 she finally abandoned dance to retire to private life and taking care personally of her child. The daughter Matilde Acuña kept good relations with her father and often she went to Spain host parent. In one of his trips she met a Spanish noble of French origin, Manuel Le Motheux-Bourbaki, who in 1872 she married at age 18. She had two sons, Emmanuel and Louise Le Motheux-Acuña, affectionate grandchildren of Fanny; they gave their Neapolitan grandmother five great-grandchildren to their Neapolitan grandmother. On 6 May 1909 Fanny Cerrito died completely blind at the age of 92 years in Paris, where, in this difficult time, no one remembered the glorious past of one of the great interpreters of the Romantic ballet.
Alessandra Ascarelli “CERRITO, Fanny (Francesca)” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana.
Monaldi Gino, Le regine della danza nel sec. XIX, Torino 1910
Guest Ivor, Fanny Cerrito: The life of a romantic ballerina, London, 1956