Royal Ballet – Mayerling – London

Edward Watson as Crown Prince Rudolf in The Royal Ballet's Mayerling.© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

Edward Watson as Crown Prince Rudolf in The Royal Ballet’s Mayerling.
© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

Royal Ballet
Mayerling

London, Royal Opera House
19 April 2013
Dave Morgan: Royal Ballet in Mayerling – 45 pictures from 2 shoots/casts
www.roh.org.uk

The wedding party parade at the opening of Mayerling’s Act I resembled the almost-state-funeral of Margaret Thatcher: a Who’s Who of crowned heads, foreign dignitaries, politicians, relatives and children. Newcomers to the ballet could do with discreet Dimbleby name-checks – here’s the Austro-Hungarian imperial family, those two are Belgian royalty, this one is the Prime Minister, those are the bride’s sister and sisters-in-law, he’s the husband of the groom’s mistress, and so on, and on.
 

Edward Watson as Crown Prince Rudolf in The Royal Ballet's Mayerling.© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

Edward Watson as Crown Prince Rudolf in The Royal Ballet’s Mayerling.
© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

The important relationships become clear as the ballet unfolds (though it takes repeated viewings to identify all those involved). Helpfully, the ROH programme now provides photo portraits of the five main women in Crown Prince Rudolf’s life, along with the synopsis. The similarities between three of the women are deliberate. Countess Marie Larisch, Rudolf’s mistress, was a cousin of his mother, Empress Elisabeth, and apparently greatly resembled her. In Sarah Lamb’s multi-layered interpretation, Larisch provides the solicitude that Elisabeth withholds from her affection-starved son. Larisch has hand-picked Mary Vetsera as her surrogate, instructing her how to gratify Rudolf’s depraved tastes.
 

Mara Galeazzi as Baroness Mary Vetsera in The Royal Ballet's Mayerling.© Dave Morgan, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Mara Galeazzi as Baroness Mary Vetsera in The Royal Ballet’s Mayerling.
© Dave Morgan, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

In MacMillan’s ballet, the tragedy is set in train by Empress Elisabeth (lovely Zenaida Yanowsky in the first cast). She is repelled by Rudolf’s pleas for love and understanding on his wedding night; even so, Yanowsky hints at the compassion she represses. That Elisabeth is capable of warmth she reveals in her affair with Bay Middleton (gallant Gary Avis), watched with aching envy by her son. But she shows no pity when she finds Larisch in Rudolf’s room as he dopes himself with morphine. By banishing Larisch, Elisabeth precipitates Rudolf’s downfall. Mary Vetsera will be the death of him.
 

Ladies of the tavern in Mayerling - Tierney Ann Heap, Jacqueline Clark, Camille Bracher, Francesca Hayward, Fumi Kaneko.© Dave Morgan, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Ladies of the tavern in Mayerling – Tierney Ann Heap, Jacqueline Clark, Camille Bracher, Francesca Hayward, Fumi Kaneko.
© Dave Morgan, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Edward Watson’s physical flexibility as Rudolf serves as a metaphor for a man in extremis. He’s unhinged, pulled apart by his self-loathing and the demands made of him as heir apparent. Watson even looks like photographs of Rudolf, minus the moustache – slender, ginger, haunted-eyed. As a dancer, Watson can now control the demands of the choreography while implying that Rudolf is on the edge of losing his wits. His elongated arabesques draw a fine line between sensitivity and psychosis. Like the young man in Roland Petit’s Le Jeune homme et la Mort, Watson’s Rudolf is at the end of his tether: sex is a drug, suicide his only release.
 

Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson as Baroness Mary Vetsera and Crown Prince Rudolf of Hungary in The Royal Ballet's Mayerling.© ROH / Bill Cooper, 2009. (Click image for larger version)

Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson as Baroness Mary Vetsera and Crown Prince Rudolf of Hungary in The Royal Ballet’s Mayerling.
© ROH / Bill Cooper, 2009. (Click image for larger version)

Mara Galeazzi as Vetsera matches him fearlessly. She starts out a minx, imitating Larisch’s femininity, then loses all inhibitions, dementedly doom-eager. Galeazzi and Watson so trust each other that their final pas de deux is horrifying in its recklessness. At the end, we’re riven by the knowledge that avid Vetsera has become a nothing, her inconvenient corpse buried clandestinely.  On the opening night, there was such a surge of sympathy for Watson’s Rudolf that he was taken by surprise during the curtain calls. Greeted by cheers, applause and stamping feet, Watson put his head in his hands in disbelief. Dazed, he raised his arms to acknowledge our ovation, and kissed the hands of his two leading ladies, Galeazzi and Lamb.
 

Emma-Jane Maguire as Princess Stephanie in The Royal Ballet's Mayerling.© Dave Morgan, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Emma-Jane Maguire as Princess Stephanie in The Royal Ballet’s Mayerling.
© Dave Morgan, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

This formidable cast will be seen in a live cinema screening from the Royal Opera House on 13 June – Mara Galeazzi’s last performance on the ROH stage before her retirement. Laura Morera makes a game Mitzi Caspar, Emma Maguire a baffled, dismayed Princess Stephanie and Ricardo Cervera is endearing as the cab-driver Bratfisch, the only person who mourns Vetsera’s death. The Royal Ballet is rich in dance-actors who can turn supporting roles into interesting characters. Alastair Marriott’s Prime Minister has ways of finding out what’s going on; Jonathan Howell’s Count Larisch is no fool; Elizabeth McGorian’s socially ambitious Helene Vetsera connives with Marie Larisch to set her daughter up with Rudolf. Nobody is naive or innocent in this decadent court.
 

About author
Work for DanceTabs
Reviews on Balletco

A long-established dance writer, Jann Parry was dance critic for The Observer from 1983 to 2004 and wrote the award-winning biography of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan: ‘Different Drummer’, Faber and Faber, 2009. She has written for publications including The Spectator, The Listener, About the House (Royal Opera House magazine), Dance Now, Dance Magazine (USA), Stage Bill (USA) and Dancing Times. As a writer/producer she worked for the BBC World Service from 1970 to 1989, covering current affairs and the arts. As well as producing radio programmes she has contributed to television and radio documentaries about dance and dancers.

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  1. I saw this production along with my daughter. We had seen another version by the Royal Opera House a few years ago which had left us breathless. We were both completely underwhelmed by the performances in this. It didn’t seem like the same ballet. It happens sometimes. The dancing was awful that the choreography that I had noted as being spectacular previously totally passed me by. I love ballet. I am passionate about it but really I could not wait to go home from this production as it was actually boring!

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