Mayerling – ballet in three acts to choreography by Kenneth MacMillan
Crown Prince Rudolph – Edward Watson
Mary Vetsera – Mara Galeazzi
Princess Stephanie – Emma Maguire
Emperor Franz-Joseph – Christopher Saunders
Empress Elizabeth – Zenaida Yanowsky
Countess Marie Larisch – Sarah Lamb
Baroness Helene Vetsera – Elizabeth McGorian
Bratfisch – Ricardo Cervera
Archduchess Sophie – Ursula Hageli
Mitzi Caspar – Laura Morera
Colonel ‘Bay’ Middleton – Gary Avis
Hungarian officers – Ryoichi Hirano, Valeri Hristov, Johannes Stepanek, Andrej Uspenski
Katherina Schratt – Elizabeth Sikora
Alfred Grunfeld – Paul Stobart
Count Eduard Taafe – Alastair Marriott
Count Hoyos – Nicol Edmonds
Princess Louise – Romany Pajdak
Prince Philip Of Coburg – David Pickering
Princess Gisela – Olivia Cowley
Princess Valerie – Pietra Mello-Pittman
Princess Valerie as a Child – Leanne Cope
Mary Vetsera as a Child – Mara Galeazzi
Loschek – Michael Stojko
Count Larisch – Jonathan Howells
Guests, Chambermaids, Whores, Noblemen and Ladies, Gentlemen, Servants, Ladies-in-waiting – Artists of The Royal Ballet
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Franz Liszt arr. John Lanchbery – Music
Nicholas Georgiadis – Designs
Gillian Freeman – Scenario
John B Read – Lighting Design
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 19 April, 2013
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
This revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling is greeted warmly – it divided opinions when first created in 1978, but now, in more emotionally sensitive and prurient times, the tale of death, sex and drugs at the heart of an Imperial court has found its moment. What has not changed is MacMillan’s extraordinary choreographic creativity, which fashioned a role for the central male character that has been described as the Hamlet of ballet, such is its size and complexity. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary is a mammoth part for any dancer, and The Royal Ballet has great confidence in fielding five men in the role.
Edward Watson, whose psychologically profound interpretation stands already as one of the finest, opened the run. He charts with unerring clarity the descent into turpitude of this hapless individual, tormented by both the head-splitting agonies associated with syphilis but also his perverse desires, which culminate in a fascination with death. Watson’s subtle acting is, nevertheless, always ‘readable’ –his lost, child-like eyes which yearn for fulfilment, release, death are there to see. He is strong enough to withstand the demands of this awesome role, although his first scene solo and his partnering of Emma Maguire’s (disappointingly bland) Princess Stephanie at the end of the First Act showed weaknesses and some misjudgements. Once Mara Galeazzi’s Mary Vetsera joined the narrative proper, Watson was as if injected with vigour – both he and she hurtled headlong towards their own mutual destruction. Nothing was more powerful than Watson’s last solo and subsequent pas de deux with her in the scene which ends in their deaths. It was raw, jarring, painful to watch in its unfettered desperation.
Mara Galeazzi is to leave the company at the end of this season, and while in some respects she has never quite fulfilled her promise with the company (in part through lack of opportunity), this role can stand as a real achievement – she is unbridled, sexy, teasing, physically fearless and dramatically intense. It is an extraordinary portrayal. Sarah Lamb too has sometimes not delivered fully. Here, though, the wig and costume of the Countess Larisch allow her to open herself up, and she scored a notable success as the court schemer and flirt whose devotion to Rudolf, her ex-lover, is never in question.
The ballet teams with character parts, vignettes that all contribute to this rich collage against which MacMillan set his tale of downfall, depravity and death. Laura Morera (recovered from surgery) was the sparkiest of Mitzi Caspars; Ricardo Cervera a characterful Bratfisch, whose jaunty solos were tinged with undoubted sadness; and Gary Avis all British duplicity as the Empress’s lover Bay Middleton. Zenaida Yanowsky repeated her impressive portrayal of the stifled consort, telling in her inability to show maternal love to her son – her scene with Rudolf in her apartments was most poignant. The four Hungarian officers were a dull crowd: unable to whip up a soufflé, let alone a separatist uprising.
Nicholas Georgiadis’s designs and costumes continue richly to evoke both time and place with a sumptuousness and attention to detail which elude many a designer today, and the Covent Garden orchestra was on this occasion on best behaviour, responding most positively to Martin Yates with accurate and idiomatic playing, thereby contributing a great deal to the success of the evening.