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Opening Night: Mayerling

A look at Kenneth MacMillan's ballet based on a hundred year old scandal.

By Royal Opera House

14 October 2009 at 11.06am | 6 Comments

Mayerling is a complex, forceful and uncompromising ballet. It deals with big themes of politics, privilege, infidelity, violence and insanity. It is a ballet that takes you to the edge of your seat and holds you there to feel the full agony and ecstasy that the young Crown Prince Rudolph must have felt during his short life. It is the gripping and decidedly adult story of the double suicide scandal that hit the Austro-Hungarian court over a hundred years ago.

Kenneth MacMillan's ballet was first performed in 1978 to audiences who immediately took to its dark and troubled themes. Despite early mutterings about the complexity of the plot, it is recognised and appreciated as a modern classic.

Although the underlying themes are strong and dark, the ballet is well rounded and enjoyable. Amongst the intensely emotional pas de deux and daring lifts between Prince Rudolph and Mary Vetsera, his 17-year-old lover, there is also pretty and athletic dancing. Rudolph’s cab-driver Bratfisch was danced on Monday by Steven McRae, who provided some fluid and delightful moments. Mara Galeazzi as the young Baroness Mary Vetsera was point perfect and a tantalising mixture of youthful exuberance and sophisticated temptress.

Any account of Monday evening’s performance, however, would be incomplete without acknowledging the formidable and accomplished performance of Edward Watson in the leading role of Prince Rudolph. By turns childish and unsure, then violent and cruel, now lustful and passionate he danced our hearts out by evoking sympathy and disgust in equal measure.

It is a tribute to MacMillan’s story telling that both the depravity and difficulty of Rudolph’s life are so graphically illustrated. It is a hugely demanding role but Watson seemed to become more sure footed, and his dancing more daring, as the evening wore on.

Once the tale had been told and the dreadful deeds digested, the audience needed a moment of quiet to take in all that had happened. As the final curtain fell there was silence before Watson stood alone to take his bows. The auditorium exploded with applause and appreciative whistles.

In the cold light of day it now seems almost impossible to find the right words to describe this stunning performance. But isn’t that the whole point? Without a word, ballet shows us aspects of humanity that our chattering tongues never come close to finding. It’s well worth seeing if you can make it before the 10November 2009.

Caroline Eveleigh, Getting into Excellent

Mayerling runs 28 April–13 May 2017.

Tickets are open to Friends on 7 December 2016. General tickets will be available on 24 January 2017.

This article has 6 comments

  1. Paola Bassanese Energya responded on 14 October 2009 at 12:45pm Reply

    I saw Mayerling on Monday, it was a thrilling and engaging performance. My friend had seen Mayerling several times already and she recommended that I see the lasted ROH's production. The plot was complex but the absolute excellence of the choreography and athleticism of the dancers were so absorbing and hypnotising that I was taken to a different era, transported through time and space.
    The ROH is my favourite venue as it's a magical place; Mayerling has proved to be totalling engaging and with superb backdrops, a truly accurate representation of the Austrian Hungarian empire and its conspiracies.

  2. Mira Taylor responded on 17 October 2009 at 4:05pm Reply

    Saw "Mayerling"on the 12th Oct too. We booked at last minute,seats in Amphitheatre, centre block (Row F). View was fairly good and at this distance it makes you concentrate on the shapes/form of the dancing etc, instead of focusing on facial expressions...Edward Watson was brill from the start and upped the ante tremendously.I liked Lamb as Larisch too. Didn't realise the importance of the Larisch role vs Mary Vetsera and switches made in casting between them...v.interesting.
    I saw the first cast of David Wall & Lynn Seymour c30 yrs ago. I remember Seymour dominating that performance rather...Also in the Epilogue, Seymour as the dead Vetsera faced the audience & her head is thrown back (v grisly effect)... whereas in this perf Mary V. is dragged head-down to her grave and does not get to look at the audience. The whole cast was superb in this perf. and I'd forgotten how lush the costumes & decor are by N.Georgiadis. A note in the prog said that it was recording this perf. for later DVD release--so I'll certainly be ordering my copy!

  3. Adrianna Glover responded on 28 October 2009 at 11:56am Reply

    We had the most wonderful evening last night, the Ballet was fabulous! Costumes amazing, cast brilliant! The ROH is a beautiful venue, the whole evening magical! I took my 2 teenagers to the Ballet as a treat, and this was their very first vist to the ROH, I think they will want more soon!

  4. Francesca Alsworth responded on 28 October 2009 at 12:16pm Reply

    It was my first visit to the ROH last night, and I really enjoyed it. The ballet itself was beautiful and the ROH was such a magical setting. I hope my Mum will take me again soon!

  5. Rita responded on 30 October 2009 at 11:26pm Reply

    Saw this ballet for the first time last night with my niece - we had no expectations so the whole production for us was brilliant - dark, powerful and erotic dancing and scenes - for us Carlos Acosta stupendous dancing - spell binding. A wonderful evening.

  6. Adrian 26.2.10 responded on 28 February 2010 at 10:05am Reply

    I was facinated by the story so saw the ballet, my first. I was entralled by the spectacle and message of ballet. Loved it. Remarkable,

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