Mayerling is Kenneth MacMillan’s darkest, most complex full-evening work and in Ryoichi Hirano it has a mesmerising interpreter of its central character – Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Based on the real-life murder/suicide pact between Rudolf and his teenage mistress Mary Vetsera in the hunting lodge at Mayerling in the turbulent final years of the 19th century, MacMillan’s ballet draws Rudolf as part-pitiful, part-repellent character, who yearns for love, yet is capable of appalling violence towards women. An increasingly deranged drug addict, he finally succumbs to his own fascination with death.
For Rudolf, MacMillan created choreography of immense depth and meticulous expression. We first see him at the ball marking his wedding to Princess Stephanie, where in an introspective solo of devilish difficulty, punctuated by slow turns ending in sustained arabesques, Rudolf expresses his discontent with his life, his yearning for freedom and love.
Danced by Ryoichi Hirano, that solo is all eloquence, every gesture, every perfectly executed step conveying the character’s troubled soul.
There are many ensemble scenes in this ballet, sumptuously designed by Nicholas Georgiadis; its court’s endless political intrigue, adultery, envy, scheming all vividly depicted; the dissolution of the tavern/brothel run by the high-class prostitute Mitzi Caspar, Rudolf regular mistress (Marianela Núñez on opening night), striking in both dance and decor.
Yet, the core of the ballet lies in the duets that show Rudolf’s fateful relationships with women. In an early scene in the rooms of Empress, his mother, Hirano’s Rudolf is a little boy lost, his moving yearning for her maternal affection coldly spurned. On opening night, Itziar Mendizabal was chilling as his distant mother.
Yet in the next scene, his wedding night with Francesca Hayward’s increasingly terrified Stephanie, Rudolf is a repugnant bully, mocking, battering and finally raping his young bride.
Deeply affecting, too, are Rudolf’s duets with Countess Larish, his former mistress who still loves him, and whom Laura Morera endows with tremendous depths of characterisation – an abandoned older woman, still very much in love, trying to do all she can to please him, including finding him a fresh young lover, Mary Vetsera.
Natalia Osipova’s Mary Vetsera is knowing beyond her 17 years. She comes to Rudolf’s chamber like a whirlwind of irresistible seduction, making straight for his bureau where she picks up his gun and fiercely points it at him. Rudolf cowers before slowly being drawn into her game, and the extended pas de deux that follows is one of the most intensely sexual in MacMillan’s canon. Its lifts and turns are also heart-stoppingly difficult, requiring fearless abandon and coordination.
By the final harrowing scene in the hunting lodge Rudolf has completely unravelled and Osipova’s Mary Vetsera has become nurturing, more mother than lover. The final murder/suicide, though inevitable, still has the power to shock.
John Lanchberry's seamless arrangement of Liszt's music was cogently played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Koen Kessels.
With a raft of principals taking on secondary roles with brilliance, the first night of Mayerling felt like an occasion, made more special by director Kevin O’Hare’s opening homage to the late Queen Elizabeth II, who all those years ago conferred the royal seal on what became The Royal Ballet.
Age guidance: 14+
|What||The Royal Ballet, Mayerling review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
05 Oct 22 – 30 Nov 22, 19:30 Mats 15 Oct at 13:00 & 12 Nov at 13:00 Dur.: 3 hours inc 2 intervals
|Website||Click here to book|