How a Forgotten Ballerina Inspired a Brand New Musical
In 1914, at the age of four, Margit Wolf, daughter of the Budapest Opera's master tailor, began training at the opera's ballet academy. Then as now, a career in ballet required years of unstinting preparation and commitment, but Hungary offered dancers only limited horizons. The best and most ambitious sought their fortunes in Western Europe and America.
Margit's opportunity came in 1928, when a small-time Italian talent scout discovered her in the chorus and whisked her and three sister ballerinas off to Milan. There she met and soon fell in love with the up-and-coming Neapolitan composer, Pasquale Frustaci. The couple toured together, married, and had a son.
Then tragedy struck. In 1938, Mussolini, by then allied with Hitler, issued an edict expelling all foreign Jews from Italy. Margit, not wanting to place her husbands career at risk, took their two-year old son and returned to her family in Budapest.
Heartsick, Frustaci composed the love song "Tu solamente tu". The song, first recorded by Vittorio de Sica in 1939, catapulted to the top of the Hit Parade and earned its composer the moniker the Italian Cole Porter. The German version, Du Immer Wieder Du, would be performed by Zarah Leander, the foremost film star of the German Reich, and its English counterpart, "You, Fascinating You", by the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.
Twenty-two years would pass before the maestro and his ballerina again met face-to-face.
In 2001, Margit and Pasquale's son, by that time a U.S. citizen with a family of his own, contributed a video-taped oral history to Yale University. He then sent the tape to me. I sat riveted as if hearing the libretto of a classic ballet and knew I would one day share this hidden epic with the world. What I discovered in my years of research was so much richer than any history lesson: an epic-sized heroine and the priceless example of one artists struggle to live with grace and dignity through humankinds darkest chapters.
You, Fascinating You, the novel, was published in 2012 and went on to win the "Editors Choice" award from the Historical Novel Society. The dance community rallied to support the book. Russian danseur Stanislav Belyaevsky gifted me with the books exquisite cover image. Ballerinas Susan Jaffe, Janet Panetta, and Elana Altman read the book and offered cover blurbs, as did the granddaughter of the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky.
But my work was not yet done. Everyone who read the book commented on its theatrical and cinematic qualities. Having studied ballet as a child and grown up in the shadow of Broadway, it felt natural to adapt the novel as a large-scale musical rich in dance. Italian composer Federico Ferrandina, familiar with Frustacis compositions, came onboard to contribute the music.
You, Fascinating You, the musical, combines elements of Cabaret and The Red Shoes and is expected to premiere in 2015. When the curtain goes up, ballerina Margit Wolf will at last have her moment in the spotlight.