Mayerling at The Royal Opera House

blu_may_watson“No other choreographer has challenged classical ballet to express so many aspects of the human condition as Kenneth MacMillan. He reinvented the narrative ballet as psychological drama, able to reveal extreme states of mind.”
— Jann Parry

The excitement as the curtain went up last night at the Royal Opera House was palpable. Created in 1978, its dark story thrilled that opening night audience, frissons of delight and near shock coursing through our veins. Last night’s incredible performance of “Mayerling” by the stars of the Royal Ballet was equally stirring, heart rending and nearly heart stopping. The story is familiar to many. A young prince, harried by political forces, unloved by his mother, dominated by his father, the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, finds solace in the usual panaceas — sex, drugs and intrigue. To Liszt’s penetrating and evocative music, the action unravels. We observe the trajectory of the Prince’s self-destructive emotional journey, in the most intricate and challenging choreography.

Prince Rudolph, as brilliantly danced by Edward Watson, is the anti-hero. He is tormented by his unhappy marriage to the boring Belgian Princess Stephanie, the entreaties of former mistresses and his mental and physical disorders. Stephanie may be boring theoretically, but Francesca Hayward dances her with incredible bravery and skill, depicting the brutality of her wedding night with Rudolph with passion and pathos.
Because of the paucity of his education and lack of self knowledge, he plummets from the heights of his worldly position into a deadly spiral of inner torment and death. Along the way he meets a young girl, Mary Vetsera, thrust forward by Rudolphs’ former mistress, Countess Larisch, and her own socially ambitious mother, who in her teenage romanticism, shares his desire for wild abandon and oblivion. Their pas de deux during their first sexual encounter is exquisite and sexually mad. The electricity between Edward Watson and Natalia Osipova is extraordinary. It is physical, it is mental, it is psychological, but it never stoops to vulgarity or crudeness. That is the genius of MacMillan. He expresses in an orderly atmosphere, in sublime balletic language, amongst sumptuous settings, costumed gorgeously, the extremes of the human condition.

All the stars were out last night. Zenaida Yanowsky as Rudolph’s frustrated and unhappy Empress mother. Sarah Lamb as the Countess Larisch driven by desire for the Prince, her former lover, and Marianela Nuñez as the elegant grande horizontale, Mitzi Kaspar, who ministers to Rudolph’s need for amusement and sex. The Brothel scene in “Mayerling,” is literally a ballet within a ballet, depicting the alternative universe to the ultra-conservative Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The murder of Mary and suicide of Rudolph takes place behind a screen, but there is no need to witness the denouement. We have been driven to this finality by the dancing.

We in the audience were riveted and transformed.

Kaaren Hale

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