Fervent Applause for Edward Watson in Mayerling

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Liszt (arranged and orchestrated by Lanchbery), Mayerling: Dancers and Orchestra of the Royal Ballet / Martin Yates (conductor), Sergey Levitin (co-concert master), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 19.4.2013. (JO’D)

Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary: Edward Watson
Baroness Mary Vetsera: Mara Galeazzi
Princess Stephanie: Emma Maguire
Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary: Christopher Saunders
Empress Elisabeth: Zenaida Yanowsky
Countess Marie Larisch: Sarah Lamb
Baroness Helene Vetsera: Elizabeth McGorgan
Bratfisch: Ricardo Cervera
Archduchess Sofie: Ursula Hageli
Mitzi Caspar: Laura Morera
Colonel ‘Bay’ Middleton: Gary Avis

Choreography: Kenneth Macmillan
Music: Franz Liszt
Designs: Nicholas Georgiadis
Scenario: Gillian Freeman
Lighting Design: John B. Read
Staging: Grant Coyle, Monica Mason

One of the interesting things about this performance of Kenneth Macmillan’s three-act, 1978 ballet, Mayerling, was the reaction of the audience to it at the end: wild applause for Edward Watson as Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary, but only enthusiastic clapping for Mara Galeazzi as his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera (whom Rudolf killed in a double suicide pact in a hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889), and for Zenaida Yanowsky as his mother, the Empress Elizabeth. Watson himself seemed surprised by the fervour of the applause, and kissed both Galeazzi and Yanowsky on the cheek as if to thank them for helping him to achieve it (at which it was their turn to look surprised).

In his portrayal of the death-obsessed, morphine-addicted Crown Prince, Watson exploits the extreme flexibility of his own body. He cowers, bends, turns. At one point (after Rudolf witnesses his mother dancing with her lover) he seems to take Macmillan’s choreography in the direction of the role he recently performed of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, and for a moment almost crawls insect-like across the floor. In his treatment of the many women around him (mistresses, ex-mistresses, wife, mother) Rudolf is anything but a cavalier, though he does show a fleeting, hopeless pity for his young wife. Macmillan uses the steps of classical ballet, but gives them a savage and ferocious edge for both male and female dancers. Of all the women, it is Mary Vetsera who seems to respond to, or match, the roughness that Rudolf metes out during the pas de deux. Galeazzi hangs by her legs from Watson’s neck, lets herself be dragged between his legs, and shows that if he is obsessed by sex and death, she is obsessed by them just as much. Through Galeazzi and the strength of her performance, Watson is also able to demonstrate a vulnerable and needy side to Rudolf’s character.

The tortured relationships of this central figure take place in a suffocating setting of military uniforms for the men and dresses of sumptuous velvet (with bustles) for the women. Liszt’s music (including the Mephisto Waltz no.1) provides a historically appropriate, and dramatic, accompaniment, but perhaps as is the case with any music not specifically written for a particular ballet, there can sometimes be a gap between what is happening on the stage and the sounds coming from the orchestra pit. Politics makes an appearance in the guise of four Hungarian officers who want to interest Rudolf in their separatist cause. This allows Macmillan to choreograph what are, in effect, short pas de deux for male dancers, which prompted sniggers from some members of the audience. (If that can happen now, in 2013, what must have been the effect in 1978?) But if people did not really like to see two men dancing together, they were happy to watch one man dancing on his own. On this evening when men’s dancing seemed more highly rated in general than women’s, Ricardo Cervera was also warmly applauded for his role as Rudolf’s ‘private cab-driver and entertainer’, Bratfisch, whose open arms, upright posture (and comic ‘turns’) provided a happy contrast to the often huddled position of his unfortunate employer.

John O’Dwyer