Mayerling review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘the stuff of dreams’

Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in Mayerling at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in Mayerling at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Sex, drugs and Franz Liszt, Mayerling has them all. Kenneth MacMillan’s greatest masterpiece is the ultimate antidote for those suffering from a surfeit of myth, mirth and elevated romance that comprises much of the classical repertoire.

Garnished with all the sumptuous aspects of a tale involving princes and princesses, courtly splendour and political intrigue it is also a penetrating study of royalty in turmoil and of the self-destructive impulse that drove Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria to morphine, murder and suicide.

MacMillan’s genius is to invest the characters with an unprecedented psychological depth - particularly evident in the series of pas de deux that hurtle from the discomfort of Rudolf’s flirtation with his young bride's sister to the abusive violence of his wedding night and ultimately the hallucinatory abandon of his final tragic fling with his mistress Mary Vetsara.

With the cream of the Royal Ballet at the peak of its powers this is a night of stupendous, transcendent ballet whose delirious momentum leaves one breathless.

As Rudolf, Edward Watson proves once again to be the company’s leading exponent of psychological torment; bending, twisting, contorting as if possessed by demons attempting to pull him apart from the inside, he embodies MacMillan’s aesthetic of beautiful agony.

Natalia Osipova’s staggering technique conveys Mary Vetsara’s incendiary eroticism in a pas de deux that is more duel than duet while Francesca Hayward conjures the recklessly gifted spirit of Lynn Seymour in the wedding night scene, danced here with unparalleled violence.

In her last season before retiring from the company, Zenaida Yanowsky is singularly magnificent as Rudolf’s mother, their duet recalling the alarming intimacy of Hamlet’s confrontation with Gertrude. A couple of costume hitches aside, this is the stuff of dreams.

Verdict
The Royal Ballet’s latest revival of MacMillan’s masterpiece looks and sounds better than ever
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