Mayerling At Royal Opera House Is A Ballet Triumph

Mayerling, Royal Opera House ★★★★☆

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Mayerling At Royal Opera House Is A Ballet Triumph Mayerling, Royal Opera House 4
Mayerling at Royal Opera House review
Photo: Alice Pennefather

Opening the Royal Ballet’s 2018/19 season is a dark, brooding and sensual ballet which offers a glimpse into the world of fin de siecle Vienna: this is Mayerling. The Royal Ballet’s 40th anniversary production of Kenneth Macmillan’s 1978 ballet features debut performances from several new soloists and takes place in the newly refurbished Royal Opera House, which means it’s a first time for lots of things. It's probably the first time many will have seen a ballet in which politics, guns and prostitutes feature so prominently, as well as a ballet in which the male lead’s performance overshadows the female (if only marginally).

The ballet is based on the true story of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austro-Hungary, who is forced into a political, loveless marriage with Princess Stephanie. On being introduced to the 13 year old Mary Vetsera, Rudolf becomes obsessed with the young woman and the pair go on to kill themselves together. A pretty bloody end, it has to be said, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet with a tinge of Manon.

Mayerling at Royal Opera House review
Photo: Alice Pennefather

Prince Rudolf, played by the faultless Steven McRae, has some of the most demanding choreography in the ballet. McRae, however, lands each jump, finishes every pirouette, and completes the many lifts with absolute precision. It's fair to say he steals the show.  The chemistry between Rudolf and Mary Vestera, danced by Sarah Lamb, is electric: Lamb’s graceful yet sharp execution works perfectly for the character of the seemingly naive, yet death-obsessed, mistress.

The music is fantastic; Liszt’s score fits equally well with the imposing royal court scenes, the shooting party’s forest outing, and the intimate bedroom dances. One of the most entertaining parts is at the start of Act II, a scene which takes place in a prostitute-filled tavern. Another first — watching prostitutes dance to classical music.

The three act ballet can seem a tad drawn out, and the multiple mistresses can get quite confusing. This is one that requires more concentration that the arguably simplistic Swan Lake, especially as disguises feature.  However, the flawless dancing of McRae and Lamb (and the comical work of James Ray, who dances Rudolf’s friend Bratfisch) is so stunning that an extra half hour is really more of a pleasure.

Mayerling, Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 9DD. Until 30 October 2018.

Last Updated 18 October 2018