Mayerling

1/?

Ferenc Liszt / Kenneth MacMillan

Ballet in three acts  
Libretto: Gillian Freeman 
Music: Franz Liszt 
Arrangment and orchestration: John Lanchbery 
World premiere: 14 March 1978, Royal Ballet, London
Polish premiere: 4 June 2021, Polish National Ballet, Warsaw

For adults only

  • About the production

    Stage fright has been a bother for many performers; even the best virtuosos found themselves struggling with it, while some of the greatest talents lost their battle to it. Kenneth MacMillan began his dance career with London’s Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Considered a top prospect, his wings were clipped by stage fright. He retired from the stage becoming an eminent choreographer, creator of ten full-length ballets and over fifty one-act pieces featuring his original choreography. He was chiefly associated with The Royal Ballet, London, where he first served as artistic director, then chief choreographer until his death in 1992. 

    It was for this company that in 1978 he devised the three-act ballet Mayerling based on one of history’s most puzzling love stories: the affair between Prince Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Josef I, and teenage Baroness Mary Vetsera. The couple was discovered dead in Rudolf’s hunting cabin, supposedly, after committing a double suicide. There were some, however, who speculated that the heir to the Austro-Hunagrian throne had been murdered. The spicy story inspired a host of films, including Terence Young’s Mayerling starring Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve, as well as catching the fancy of journalists and writers. 

    Drawing inspiration from George Marek’s book The Eagles Die, MacMillan wanted to showcase the compelling love and passion shared by the two aristocrats as well as the social pressures they faced, which – combined with the lack of prospects for their relationship to develop because of monarchistic reasons – could have led the lovers to take the tragic decision. MacMillan set his Mayerling to Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony and employed Crown Prince Rudolf’s obsession with weaponry and death as the leading motif. 

    Presented on many of the world’s balletic stages, Mayerling will be performed at the Wielki in Warsaw by the dancers of the Polish National Ballet in a production conducted by Patrick Fournillier.

  • Synopsis

    Introduction

    The truth about the double death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and the 17-year-old Mary Vetsera has never been established because of an instant court cover-up. Rudolf’s unhappy political marriage to Princess Stephanie of Belgium, his involvement with the Hungarian separatist’s cause, and the oppressive opposition of his father, Emperor Franz Josef, undoubtedly motivated the desperate conclusion at Mayerling. Memoirs and letters reveal that Rudolf was a depraved and often violent prince, and Mary an obsessive girl only too ready to die for the idea of love.

    The prologue is set at the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz before dawn

    Act I

    At the ball to celebrate his wedding to Princess Stephanie, Crown Prince Rudolf offends his parents and bride by flirting with Princess Louise. Alone, he meets Countess Larisch and Baroness Vetsera, who introduces her daughter, Mary. Four Hungarian officers interrupt, pleading their separatist cause. Countess Larisch tries to revive her past relationship with Rudolf. The Emperor discovers them and orders Rudolf to join his wife. Rudolf first visits his mother, Empress Elizabeth, and attempts to engage her sympathy. At Rudolf’s apartments, Stephanie is prepared for the wedding night. Rudolf forces himself on her, terrifying her with a revolver.

    Act II

    At a notorious tavern, Bratfisch tries to entertain Stephanie, but she leaves, disgusted. Rudolf devotes his attention to his mistress, Mitzi Caspar. His Hungarian friends hand out political pamphlets. They hide during a police raid. Despairing, Rudolf suggests to Mitzi they commit suicide together. Prime Minister Taafe comes to remove Rudolf from the tavern. As Rudolf leaves, Countess Larisch presents Mary Vetsera.

    Countess Larisch calls on Baroness Vetsera at her house. She tells Mary’s fortune, assuring her that her romantic dreams will come true. Mary gives her a letter for Rudolf.

    During Franz Josef’s birthday, Taafe confronts Rudolf with the Hungarian pamphlet. The Empress presents her husband the Emperor with a portrait of his ‘friend’, Katherina Schratt, and Rudolf observes an amorous exchange between the Empress and ‘Bay’. Countess Larisch teases Rudolf with Mary’s letter. Mary and Rudolf meet in secret at Rudolf’s apartments for the first time.

    Act III

    At a shoot in the countryside, Rudolf kills a courtier and almost hits the Emperor. The Empress discovers Countess Larisch with Rudolf at his apartments and dismisses her, unaware that Mary is waiting outside. Mary joins Rudolf, who asks her to die with him.

    Rudolf, drinking with his friends in the hunting lodge at Mayerling, indicates that he is unwell, and they leave. Bratfisch arrives with Mary and attempts to entertain them. In a passionate frenzy Rudolf makes love to Mary. Calming his nerves with morphine, he embraces her then shoots her. Rudolf’s friends rush in and are expelled by Rudolf who, left alone, shoots himself.

    An epilogue returns to the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz.

  • Credits
    Choreography
    Kenneth MacMillan
    Conductor
    Patrick Fournillier
    Staging
    Karl Burnett
    Staging
    Wayne Eagling
    Set and Costume Designer
    Nicholas Georgiadis
    Lighting
    John B. Read