Mayerling. Ryoichi Hirano as Rudolf and Sarah Lamb as Marie Larisch.
After a 24-year absence from the stages in the Los Angeles area, The Royal Ballet of London made its long-awaited return with three performances of the late British dancer/choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s (December 11, 1929 – October 29, 1992) masterpiece “Mayerling” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion July 5, 6 & 7th. This rather long and complex three-act ballet had its debut in 1978 at The Royal Opera House in London after Mr. MacMillan resigned as artistic director of the ballet company in 1977.
With a scenario written by Gillian Freeman, music by Franz Liszt, scenery/costume designs by Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting by John B. Read, it tells the real-life story of the events leading to the double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and his teenage lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera. It is a tale of love, lust, power and the descent into madness with a tragic ending.
The prologue takes us to a cemetery during a pouring rain just before dawn where someone is being buried with the utmost discretion. Soon after that, we are transported to the marriage festivities of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary (Ryoichi Hirano) and Princess Stephanie of Belgium (Francesca Hayward). Here we get a glimpse of the decadence of this court and especially that of Prince Rudolf who manages to flirt with his new sister-in-law (Romany Pajdak) even on his wedding day.
As the misogynistic, womanizing Rudolph, the tall, elegant Hirano takes on one of the most difficult male dance roles in ballet choreography. He makes the difficult choreography, which includes multiple turns, look easy while showcasing his acting abilities in this very demanding role.
Even though this is a very masculine centered work, the female roles are crucial in the telling of the story. The outstanding American dancer Sarah Lamb as Countess Marie Larisch (an old lover of Rudolf) brought her impeccable technique and nuance acting to her role. Francesca Hayward as Princess Stephanie showed a sense of dignity and detail to her performance as the jilted spouse that has to endure her new husband’s infidelity. Her pas de deux with Hirano was a highlight that included outrageous lifts and turns.
One of the most interesting and delightful scenes in the ballet takes place at a brothel/tavern where Rudolf takes Stephanie in disguise. Here, we meet another of his lovers, the courtesan Mizzi Kaspar danced by the talented Marianela Nuñez that along with the ladies of the corps de ballet put on quite a risqué performance.
At the core of the story is the obsession of the prince and his teenage lover Mary Vetsera (Natalia Osipova) with death, as their relationship takes more macabre turns. The famous pas de deux in Act III between these two characters in the prince’s bedroom is one of the most arresting segments in the work. Both Osipova and Hirano bring out a mix of eroticism and fluidity in their movements pushed by MacMillan’s complex and difficult choreography which is a fusion of classical ballet, modern dance, and bravura elements.
Other outstanding performances included the dynamic four Hungarian officers, friends of Rudolf, danced by Cesar Corrales, Nicol Edmonds, Tomas Mock, and Valentino Zucchetti, who brought tons of energy and outrageous turns to their performances. Another memorable role was danced by Alexander Campbell as Bratfisch, Rudolf’s driver and sometimes entertainer whose leaps and turns looked effortless.
Rounding out this sumptuous production were the opulent, gorgeous costumes and set design by Georgiadis with beautiful music by Liszt conducted seamlessly by maestro Koen Kessels. By the sound of the long-standing ovation at the end, you could tell that the audience got the “Royal Treatment”.