Mayerling – Monday night at The Witham

Another live screening at the Witham from the Royal Opera House – and what a fantastic evening! This is Drama with a capital D, based on a tragedy which contributed in a big way to the downfall of the Australian-Hungarian Empire – the so called Dual Monarchy agreed in 1867, which gave Hungary a degree of independence. The only son of Emperor Franz Joseph, Rudolph was the personification of the festering rot at the heart of the European monarchies of the time – autocracy, divine rights, inbreeding – it was all there. He was into drink, drugs, rowdy companions and women – all in a major way.

His final affair with 15 year old Baroness Maria Vetsera, ended in a suicide pact in 1889 at the Imperial Hunting Lodge at Mayerling and his death led ultimately to the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was by then heir to the Empire.

But to the Ballet! This was choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan 40 years ago to a score by Franz Listz and is seen very much as a ‘company’ ballet – every member of the cast is acting throughout and all are individuals. Yes, there are pas de deux and solos but it does not focus only on the principal dancers, though it is recognised as being possibly the most demanding role in all the ballet repertoire for a male dancer.

Every member of the cast was brilliant and exuded individual character, contributing to the drama leading to the final tragedy. But Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb as Rudolph and Maria were outstanding – their dancing together was incredibly athletic but equally beautiful and erotic. They were unforgettable.

The costumes were superb and enhanced the atmosphere of glamour, depravity, intrigue and despair at what was the rotten core of both the Empire and the principal character.

If you m book now for the next ballet from the ROH – Le Bayadere – and I suspect and hope that McRae will be dancing in that as well. Meanwhile, King Lear with Ian McKellen is on Thursday Oct 25th – I saw this while I was away and can recommend it wholeheartedly. Not perfect but outstanding and with some more memorable performances.

JW 17 October 2018