The Royal Ballet opens its 2022-2023 cinema season with Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, marking 30 years since the choreographer’s death in 1992. It will be broadcast on opening night, Wednesday 5 October 2022, to over 830 cinemas in 25 countries around the world.
Mayerling was given its premiere at the Royal Opera House on 14 February 1978 and was dedicated to the company’s founder choreographer Frederick Ashton.
John Percival wrote his review for The Times two days later saying, “Kenneth MacMillan’s new three-act ballet lasts three hours or more and provides its protagonist with an outsize role which David Wall fills magnificently. Even if Mayerling had nothing else to commend it (and that is far from being the case), I would unhesitatingly recommend you to see this performance.”
The first-night cast reads like a Who’s Who of The Royal Ballet. Wall was Crown Prince Rudolf, Mary Vetsera, his mistress, was Lynn Seymour, while his wife, Princess Stephanie, was played by Wendy Ellis. Michael Somes and Georgina Parkinson played the Crown Prince’s parents, his ex-mistress, Countess Marie Larisch, was Merle Park, and Rudolf’s cabdriver Bratfisch was Graham Fletcher, with Laura Connor playing Mitzi Caspar, Rudolf’s regular mistress. Also in the cast were David Drew, Gerd Larsen, Leslie Edwards, Genesia Rosato, Marguerite Porter, Michael Coleman, Derek Deane, Stephen Beagley, and many others – it’s a huge cast.
Percival was immediately impressed by the new ballet: “Mayerling has a stronger structure than Manon or Anastasia; the big set-pieces are always relevant and the character-drawing clearer.”
All the dancers got a thumbs up, especially Wall:
In the most breathtaking passages, Wall’s partnering is a monument of strength. His solos, too, are so expressively done that it might be possible not to notice their bravura, the immense effort that must be involved simply to get through such a big role, let alone give it the quality it has in this performance. And as an actor his face and body are both so telling that the whole conception of the character evolves in one huge sweep, clearly marked out by the bored petulance of his entry in the wedding scene, then building steadily to its predictable climax.
And here is what he said about the others in the cast:
[Lynn] Seymour does everything that can be done to make credible a girl of such wildly extravagant passions; even the implausibilities ring true, as part of the creature’s habitual exaggeration.
[Merle] Park’s role is perhaps the more interesting, with its mixture of sexual innuendo, superficial respectability and greed, if only for attention. She plays it with a glittering presence and sly subtlety.
Georgina Parkinson also, as Rudolf’s mother the Empress, sympathetically fills out a character fascinating in her mixture of protocol and instinct.
Wendy Ellis has by far her best role so far as the timid, frumpish bride, whom she endows with a touching quality.
Laura Connor flaunts splendidly through a big sequence in the (surely anachronistic) whores’ cabaret as Rudolf’s long-term mistress, Mitzi Caspar.
A newcomer to solo roles, Genesia Rosato, makes much of her small part as one of Rudolf’s passing fancies.
A compliment was even hidden in his seemingly negative comment:
Unfortunately, except for Graham Fletcher in two comic solos as the cabbie, Bratfisch, and a quartet of Hungarians led by Michael Coleman, who keep emerging from the arras to twist Rudolf’s arm or toss off a patriotic dance, none of the other men has much to do.
His summing up?
Mayerling will offer a mighty challenge to the casts who follow its admirable first interpreters.
The Times’ John Percival could hardly have imagined that 44 years later it would be possible for audiences internationally to see how the latest opening night cast fares. Principal dancer Ryoichi Hirano is Crown Prince Rudolf (who has seven major pas de deux with five different women), and he is joined by principal dancers Natalia Osipova as Mary Vetsera, Laura Morera as Marie Larisch, Francesca Hayward as Princess Stephanie, and Marianela Nuñez as Mitzi Caspar.
Encore screenings will run from Sunday 9 October 2022.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.