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Mayerling, Royal Ballet Autumn 2022


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For those who have mistakenly wandered off on a tangent thinking that some of us don’t approve of ballerinas over 35 portraying Mary Vetsera 😉, that’s not what we said at all.

 

Remember, MacMillan created the ballet on David Wall (initially Anthony Dowell until he sustained an injury), and several brilliant ballerinas, who at the time of the premiere were

1) 38 plus (Lynn Seymour, 3 weeks from her 39th birthday) - Mary Vetsera

2) 40 plus (Merle Park) - Marie Larisch

3) 39 plus (Georgina Parkinson) - Empress Elisabeth

4) 26 (Wendy Ellis)- Princess Stephanie 

 

As the role of Mary Vetsera is complex, of course it suits an older ballerina who has a lot of performing experience as Seymour did. (Just to add though that Gillian Revie- cast with MacMillan’s approval - Melissa Hamilton and Viviana Durante, to name just three, made successful debuts and portrayals of Mary Vetsera in their twenties.) 

 

What we actually said was that it can be a problem if the dancers portraying Larisch and Elisabeth look too young. It is harder for a younger dancer to portray an older age (but easier vice versa) convincingly when they are onstage with older dancers portraying younger characters, but easier if the entire cast is very young.

 

Not only does the younger dancer in an older  cast have to show life years that they haven’t lived (including a change in how they bear weight when walking which is extremely difficult to mimic) but if most of the leading cast are older, they can end up looking like they’re odd one out.

 

They can’t give Elisabeth grey or white hair, because in real life she wanted to look eternally youthful and always had grey hairs plucked out. That’s a double whammy- having to portray a 51 year old who always wanted to look a thin and glamorous 32 but still has to be at least older than her 30 year old son, while you’re under 30 yourself! In real life, Elisabeth was tall (5ft 8in) but this is probably the one detail that doesn’t have to be followed exactly if all your older tall dancers are injured or indisposed.

 

In the ballet Larisch is a non relation who was Rudolf’s ex. (Marie Larisch in real life was Rudolf’s first cousin, a favourite niece of Elisabeth’s, and no evidence at all that they were lovers.) So the dancer has to portray or look old enough to have had a fairly long history with Rudolf without looking like they were lovers when she was 12!

 

I’ve seen younger dancers cast in the part who often end up looking like an obsessed young woman (“why can’t you be my boyfriend? Pretty please?”) who is constantly rejected by Rudolf rather than his ex. If the young dancer is on the shorter side, it has the effect of suggesting she is almost a teen or adolescent, which compounds the difficulty. It then looks baffling when she somehow has access to Mary and influence over Mary’s mother and Rudolf to be able to introduce Mary to Rudolf.

 

It’s a nuanced and complex role and relationship that requires both dancers playing Rudolf and Larisch to bring the relationship across. By the way, in real life, there  is evidence that Larisch did introduce Rudolf and Mary Vetsera- for which Elisabeth disowned her after his suicide. 

 

If the idea is to give a young dancer a chance to be in the ballet before taking on the role of Mary Vetsera, then Stephanie or Mitzi Caspar are more logical characters to pick, as Stephanie is young at the time of her wedding and Mitzi has no defined age. 

Edited by Emeralds
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1 hour ago, JennyTaylor said:

Rehearsal this evening is the Matthew Ball cast. I feel I’ve hit the jackpot and I haven’t seen a single step yet

I’m loving it so far! Great cast! I noticed one particular favourite of mine straight away! A certain Mr Bracewell! 

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13 minutes ago, JennyTaylor said:

Jackpot duly hit by Matthew Ball and Laura Morera. Act 3 WOW!  That peculiar rule about not clapping in rehearsals was replaced by roars of approval 


What rule? They were fantastic but the clapping/roaring was quite normal.

 

Dying to say more but it will have to wait!

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9 minutes ago, JennyTaylor said:

Jackpot duly hit by Matthew Ball and Laura Morera. Act 3 WOW!  That peculiar rule about not clapping in rehearsals was replaced by roars of approval 

Yes! Wasn’t it amazing?! I was reading somewhere here about the ages of dancers cast as Mary. Wow! Laura Morera was every bit a 17-year old girl in this (when she first appeared).  She had that youthful spring in her step and she was simply enchanting. The Act III pas de deux was breathtaking! I  also loved Mayara Magri- she danced beautifully and I really loved her characterisation. Matthew Ball’s Crown Prince was a tortured soul and I liked what he did with the role. All supporting cast were excellent, though William Bracewell’s elegance and acting always captivate me - not that I’m biased at all!
 

All in all a brilliant evening - I am so glad I made the effort to go! 

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14 hours ago, Sim said:

So pleased they have been given the performance on October 29th…the 30th anniversary of Sir Kenneth’s death.  


oh!  I hadn’t realised the significance of the date.  I will be there. 

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On 29/09/2022 at 15:20, Emeralds said:

 

In the ballet Larisch is a non relation who was Rudolf’s ex. (Marie Larisch in real life was Rudolf’s first cousin, a favourite niece of Elisabeth’s, and no evidence at all that they were lovers.) So the dancer has to portray or look old enough to have had a fairly long history with Rudolf without looking like they were lovers when she was 12!

On 29/09/2022 at 15:20, Emeralds said:

 

 

It’s a nuanced and complex role and relationship that requires both dancers playing Rudolf and Larisch to bring the relationship across. By the way, in real life, there  is evidence that Larisch did introduce Rudolf and Mary Vetsera- for which Elisabeth disowned her after his suicide. 

 

I

 

The one dancer above all I'd have liked to have seen as Larisch was Lynn Seymour (who never danced it as far as I know) - I can imagine her really relishing the role and having a great time.

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7 minutes ago, capybara said:

For those who weren't at Mayerling in October 1992, here is a link to the cast on that momentous and deeply sad opening night - led by Irek Mukhamedov, Viviana Durante and Lesley Collier: https://rohcollections.org.uk/performance.aspx?performance=14693&row=31

What a cast!  And how awful for them all, to be out there performing whilst Sir Kenneth lost his life somewhere not too far from them, backstage.  

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Viviana as Vetsera, Irek as Rudolf, Lesley Collier as Larisch, Darcey Bussell as Mitzi Caspar, Jane Burn as Stephanie, Nicola Tranah as Empress Elisabeth (and it does follow my “recommendation” of having a dancer who had portrayed Mary Vetsera first playing Larisch later, and certainly a dancer older than the one portraying MV) The casting was done by MacMillan himself who was keen for Irek to have a go at the role of Rudolf after he’d relished the experience of portraying Des Grieux.

 

I saw the same cast at a later show in the run, as I couldn’t make it on the date of the premiere. 

 

Rest in peace, Kenneth MacMillan. Very sad - he was only 62. 

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I did an extensive interview with David Wall in 2005 for our predecessor, ballet.co.uk.  I have posted it here a few times, particularly before runs of Mayerling and Manon as we discussed them quite a lot.  As this is my interview, I am happy to paste the relevant part about Mayerling below...fascinating to get an insight from David into Rudolf's creation and his views on the choreography, what MacMillan achieved, etc..  Many of you will have read this previously, but for those who have joined the forum in the past three or four years I don't think you will have seen it yet:

 

One of the biggest challenges of Wall's career was having Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling created on him. Mayerling is clearly very dear to him, and it proved an illuminating discussion. As background, MacMillan had said that he wanted to strip away the padding of the 19th century ballets. He was also most impressed by Osborne's 'Look Back in Anger' and had thought "I can do that with ballet". The choreographer was in a good position when he decided to create Mayerling because there were so many wonderful dancers around at the time, both male and female. "It took about ten months to get it right" remembers Wall. "Kenneth made us all go away and read books on the subject. The facts seemed to change from book to book, and I felt quite lost. It wasn't until I read a chapter on Rudolf's childhood that I suddenly clocked on to how this person might have developed: the fact that he was marched around in the snow at 6.00 in the morning at the age of 6, and shot at, and deprived of his mother's love and attention made me understand a lot about what happened to him. As we were developing the piece, we didn't have any ideas where the pas de deux were going to fit in. Looking back, it's good we did it in bits. Had we done it chronologically, I would have said to Kenneth after Act 1: 'forget it, I can't do this'." I ask him about the difficulty  of dancing this role, and he says it wasn't difficult in that they were such a good team (the original cast included Merle Park, Wendy Ellis, Georgina Parker and Laura Connor as well as Lynn Seymour). They all knew MacMillan well, and they never worked too hard. "Certainly with the big pas de deux with Lynn, it came easily. That very last pdd before Rudolf shoots Vetsera and himself only took about four hours to choreograph and to get it right." I express real surprise at this, and he explains: "We were all SO intense about it and had lived it for ten months. By the time we got it onto the stage, the last thing we thought about was the audience. We knew exactly what we were doing, and could react to each other so well, that we didn't care whether the audience liked it or not. Actually, we thought that they wouldn't like it, but it turns out it was Kenneth's only major ballet that they DID go ballistic about immediately. They didn't about Manon, or Anastasia". Was Wall, and his colleagues, for that matter, aware that they were making dance history at the time, in that the subject matter and its portrayal in Mayerling were so controversial? "Umm…no, I don't think we were. We were so intensely involved, and halfway through Kenneth gave up the directorship of the RB, and after that he was a different man, so we really went for it and it was a very happy working relationship between the cast and Kenneth". Although Kenneth was happy to rely on his cast for ideas and to interpret his vision, there were times when they had to come to compromises, as when they were discussing how Rudolf took his morphine. "Just think about it", chuckles Wall, "syringes weren't invented yet, so guess how Rudolf took his morphine?" "Er, the French way, I assume?" "Yes!" he bursts out laughing, "so we decided on poetic licence and brought in the syringe…I didn't want to shock the audience more than we already were doing!" How about the physical and emotional exertions of the ballet? He nods and assents when I tell him that Johan Kobborg had recently said that after Act 1 he already feels like he's danced a three-act ballet. "Yes, it used to take me two days to recover from one performance of Mayerling". Often, the saving grace was the music; it spurred him on, particularly at the end of Act 3. Is it the most diffcult ballet he has ever danced? "Yes, it is the most taxing mentally and physically, but to dance Giselle well in that second act used to be equally demanding in a different way." He had said once that he had to do things in portraying Rudolf that he had never done as a human being or a dancer…what did he mean by this? "Well, portraying that depravity. I mean, that pdd with Stephanie….that's not in my nature!" I tell him I'm glad to hear it, and he continues "I tried to get the audience to be a bit sympathetic with Rudolf, because he was desperate and it was only circumstances that made him that way." Did he succeed in this quest? "I think so. I hope so." The pdd between Rudolf and his mother is pivotal, and that if it is danced correctly, this is whence the sympathy for him should emanate. "Absolutely. That really is a pivotal part of the ballet."

 

He has coached a few Rudolfs over the years, including Anthony Dowson and, more recently, Kobborg, who he thought was excellent. "I thought he really did that role justice" enthuses Wall. "Unfortunately I wasn't in the country when Jonny Cope was doing it…I would have loved to have seen him." I make him feel worse by telling him it was another brilliant portrayal. "Yes, that's what I heard." What is his main advice when coaching the Rudolf role? "Well, the one thing I don't do is try to make them do it the way I did it. They need to be themselves, but also get the balance right between the steps and the acting." Has he seen some worthy successors to Lynn Seymour as Vetsera? "Yes." Was he going to tell me more? "No. Ok, yes. Little Alina [Cojocaru]…I thought she was splendid in the part, but" he adds diplomatically, "let me say that I haven't seen many recent casts at the Royal. In previous years, Lesley [Collier] was brilliant, my wife also, and of course [Alessandra] Ferri was sensational in it with Wayne [Eagling]". Thinking of MacMillan's choreography in general, I broach the subject of his often darker side…themes of depravity and sexual violence in his ballets (Manon, Mayerling, The Invitation and The Judas Tree come immediately to mind). "Well, not all his ballets were like that. Look at Winter Dreams, Elite Syncopations. Gloria wasn't a happy subject, but it is very beautiful, and the same goes for Requiem. Many of his ballets are filled with light and happiness. The last part of Concerto is almost Ashtonesque in its purity. So much of Kenneth's work was so pure, but those don't seem to be the things people remember him for." So he was inclined to show the whole of the human condition? "Yes, exactly. He really wanted to make it part of the ballet scene, showing how people really are. That's why the more you worked with Kenneth, the more he could rely on us not to be frightened of being ugly on the stage, and he'd use that in many ballets, especially Mayerling and Anastasia. Those who worked well with Kenneth were those who had the courage to use more than just the classical idiom they had been taught, and to explore and develop it."

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Well, I hope those of you who are going in person have a good time.  Given the prices, and the fact that this wasn't by and large a cast I would prioritise, I've decided to take the cheaper option and see it at the cinema.

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18 minutes ago, Shade said:

I would have been at ROH but for the train strike. Hope it’s a great evening for everyone who can attend.

 

There appeared to be over 90 returned tickets for tonight in the lower parts of the house.

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Totally brilliant first and second act! Francesca Hayward as Princess Stephanie really blew me away. Very taken with Natalia Osipova and Ryoichi Hirano's chemistry. The four Hungarian officers are brilliant - Reece Clarke in particular really stands out. My first Mayerling!

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Sadly I didn’t take to this performance at all.  I thought the women were very good (especially Laura Morera) but I found Ryoichi Hirano’s Rudolf too one-dimensional.  
 

More tomorrow….if anyone is still talking to me!  🫢😀

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Sadly, I have to agree Sim!

 

I only saw it in the cinema (my first time seeing it in this way) and I was actually glad I didn't go to the trouble and extra money to see it at the ROH.

 

The women did really well and I thought Frankie really stood out in the Act One PDD.

 

Otherwise I was a bit cold on it.

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30 minutes ago, Sim said:

Sadly I didn’t take to this performance at all.  I thought the women were very good (especially Laura Morera) but I found Ryoichi Hirano’s Rudolf too one-dimensional.  
 

More tomorrow….if anyone is still talking to me!  🫢😀


I saw Hirano’s Mayerling at the last run in 2018 and I really didn’t enjoy or “get” it and I think a large part is probably down to the fact that I didn’t really appreciate Hirano as Rudolf. I am not glad but somewhat reassured that others feel the same! I remain disappointed I didn’t see Watson in the role. (Who I originally booked for!)
 

I would be interested to read if others think his performance has developed since then…

 

all the excitement on this thread makes me wonder if I should give it another go, I feel casting is so important for McMillan ballets in particular! I would have been tempted by Ball but decided to save money for Beauty and Cinderella. Perhaps next time…

Edited by JNC
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Circumstances have prevented any visits to Covent Garden since Covid so we have had to rely on streams and cinema broadcasts. Was disappointed to find that the quality of the filming hadn’t improved with the lighting from the ROH as poor as ever. Had we not been familiar with Mayerling we would have had no idea what was happening in the first burial scene and the second wasn’t much better. Many other details were also hard to make out, a pity when the admission isn’t cheap. Still, Petroc Trelawny’s fluent, informed and professional hosting was a pleasant change. 
Enjoyed all the women’s roles, especially the ever-amazing Osipova, Morera (their scenes together were memorable) and Hayward. Mendizabal was an especially icy empress. 
Wasn’t sure what to make of Hirano’s Rudolf. A rather low key approach compared with some of the much more obviously depraved interpretations we have seen, but I guess he was trying to bring out the ‘little boy lost’ side of the character and to show the progression towards the final two pas de deux with Vetsera which certainly didn’t lack passion. Nevertheless it was the women who drew my attention throughout. 
A wardrobe malfunction and two firearm problems aside, an enjoyable evening as a whole. Would have loved to see Ball and Muntagirov’s performances but sadly not to be this time. 

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Just got back from a cinema screening of Mayerling, an electrifying performance from Ryoichi Hirano and Natalia Osipova (who gave a really unhinged interpretation, like truly lost in 'love').

 

Full of drama, though literally jumping the gun when the gunshot went off early, and when Nuñez's dress got caught in the chair, certainly a memorable evening.

 

Loved the Four Hungarian Officers (Reece Clarke, Leo Dixon, Nicol Edmonds, Calvin Richardson) dances, just beautiful Royal Ballet male dancers with lovely lines.

 

Itziar Mendizabal was superb as Empress Elisabeth and always a delight seeing Marianela Nuñez as Mitizi Caspar and great performance by Laura Morea as Countess Marie Larisch.

 

Royal Opera House orchestra on top form as usual.

 

In fact the entire company were on strong form tonight, just an amazing evening and it made me excited for November as I will be seeing it live at the Royal Opera House (Ryoichi Hirano, Melissa Hamilton, Itziar Mendizabal on 21st November), Its one of my favourite ballets and I have been wanting to see it live for years to complete my trifecta of MacMillan ballets. I love history, have always been fascinated with the Hapsburgs, so never had any trouble following characters etc., on DVD I have the BBC TV series Fall of Eagles and one episode is dedicated to the Mayering Incident, provides nice context. 

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27 minutes ago, JNC said:


I saw Hirano’s Mayerling at the last run in 2018 and I really didn’t enjoy or “get” it and I think a large part is probably down to the fact that I didn’t really appreciate Hirano as Rudolf. I am not glad but somewhat reassured that others feel the same! I remain disappointed I didn’t see Watson in the role. (Who I originally booked for!)
 

I would be interested to read if others think his performance has developed since then…

 

all the excitement on this thread makes me wonder if I should give it another go, I feel casting is so important for McMillan ballets in particular! I would have been tempted by Ball but decided to save money for Beauty and Cinderella. Perhaps next time…

I also saw Hirano after booking for Watson in the last run. I didn’t connect with the performance last time at all but this time I did. It could be seeing it in the cinema helped as I thought his Rudolf was more restrained than other interpretations so having the close ups helped. But I thought he was really great this time, very strong performance and I could feel the pain of Rudolf from the performance and I couldn’t before. 
 

Overall I really loved tonight’s performance. Everyone was amazing. Hungarian officers- wow. All the women were fantastic. Loved Natalia. Loved Marianela as Mitzi. Laura Morera was perfect as Marie Larisch. I have booked to see the Ball cast so I can’t wait for that. 

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I did enjoy Ryoichi Hirano's performance.  Very strong presence I found.  But I usually enjoy his work.  

 

Small question what happened to his beard?  Why did he shave for Act III (only a moustache)??  I don't remember this happening before.  I failed to recognise him at the start of Act III. 

 

Unfortunate mistake with the gun shots in Act II, really detracted from the drama of the moment. 

 

Didn't notice the costume problem.  However, Elizabeth McGorian as Mary Vetsera's mother picked up something from the floor. 

 

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Well, my main takeaways from the cinema screening were the marvellous amount of detail in the portrayals of Stephanie (Francesca Hayward) and Marie Larisch (Laura Morera), and how much Marianela Nunez made out of what is a not very long appearance by Mitzi Kaspar - shows how much you miss, not necessarily only from the amphitheatre, but even from stalls circle level.  I've never been a fan of the extreme facial close-ups we get from time to time in these showings, and I don't think they really did the dancers any favours here.  At times, focusing in too close led to a lack of obvious cause and effect, which an audience unfamiliar with the ballet needs to follow the story logically: probably the best example of this was in Larisch's last scene with Rudolf, where focusing on those characters meant that we missed the Empress ordering Larisch to leave, with the result that it looked as though she just decided to abandon him of her own volition.  As others have said, the broadcast did come across pretty dark in places, but I guess probably no more than in the previous two cinema relays. 

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