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Mayerling in LA - Royal Ballet July 2019

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Since this run opened last night, here is a place to give some impressions.

Casting (Rudolf, Mary, Larisch, Empress Elizabeth, Princess Stephanie, Mitzi Casper, Bratfisch Emperor Franz Josef, Bay Middleton)

Friday - Ryoichi Hirano, Natalia Osipova, Sarah Lamb, Kristen McNally, Francesca Hayward, Marianela Nuñez, Alexander Campbell, Christopher Saunders, Gary Avis

Saturday - Matthew Ball, Sarah Lamb, Laura Morera, Itziar Mendizabal, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Mayara Magri, James Hay, Gary Avis, Nehemiah Kish

Sunday - Thiago Soares, Lauren Cuthbertson, Itziar Mendizabal, Lara Turk, Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Claire Calvert, Paul Kay, Alastair Marriott, Gary Avis

 

Friday's 4 Hungarian Officers were Cesar Corrales, Nicol Edmonds, Tomas Mock, Valentino Zucchetti.

I was there last night and will be there Sunday. Still need to gather my thoughts but am regretting not seeing the Saturday cast for Sarah Lamb's Mary Vetsera after seeing her Larisch. Going to go watch some parts of the live broadcast with her cast this last year. Not sure Osipova was my ideal Mary.

On a side note, the Dorothy Chandler seems like it absorbs earthquakes pretty well!

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Eager to read more of your thoughts and hope it’s the dancing that is earth-shaking the rest of this weekend...

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Thank you @ksk04 for starting this topic.  Tonight I will be at the performance and will report back.

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Osipova is the dancer that comes closest to Lynn Seymour, the role's creator, but perhaps the uninhibited quality may be unsettling for some.  Seymour also had a lot of detractors.

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1 hour ago, Mashinka said:

Osipova is the dancer that comes closest to Lynn Seymour, the role's creator, but perhaps the uninhibited quality may be unsettling for some.  Seymour also had a lot of detractors.

I've never seen Seymour live (too young, wrong country), but have watched many clips online and admire Seymour's dancing greatly. I admit to not seeing the resemblance between them based off last night's performance, especially since Seymour is quite musical (there's also the beautiful feet...). Seymour is also sexy, erotic, and dangerous (based on what I've seen), while Osipova seems simply dangerous. Perhaps that is a valid interpretation but like I said, it didn't work for me, despite admiring her obvious talents/ability. Or maybe there is something else I am missing.

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1 hour ago, ksk04 said:

I've never seen Seymour live (too young, wrong country), but have watched many clips online and admire Seymour's dancing greatly. I admit to not seeing the resemblance between them based off last night's performance, especially since Seymour is quite musical (there's also the beautiful feet...). Seymour is also sexy, erotic, and dangerous (based on what I've seen), while Osipova seems simply dangerous. Perhaps that is a valid interpretation but like I said, it didn't work for me, despite admiring her obvious talents/ability. Or maybe there is something else I am missing.

Maybe that's why Osipova succeeds disturbingly in this role. The sexual energy of an infatuated seventeen year old girl can be powerfully dangerous, rather than sexy and erotic.

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Went to the performance last night and was blown away!  My love for The Royal Ballet has been reinvigorated!  The casting for this performance was brilliant.

IMO Matthew Ball will be the next great English Danseur Noble.  He handled that difficult role with aplomb.  He never seemed to tire during his many variations and pas de deux.  His was very moving and beautifully showed the tragic arc of Crown Prince Rudolf.

Sarah Lamb as Baroness Mary Vetsera was so sensual and passionate.  Not only is she a beautiful dancer but also a great actress.  Laura Morera as Marie Larisch did not disappoint either.  Another strong dancer/actress all around.  Itziar Mendizabal as the cold Empress Elisabeth was quite dazzling as well.  

 

My favorite scene was in Act II at the "notorious tavern".  It is so lively and I especially love the variation for Bratfisch who was lively performed by James Hay.  His variations were so clean and crisp.  The 4 Hungarian Officers were fantastic - Luca Acri, Benjamin Ella, Tomas Mock, and the especially fantastic Marcelino Sambe.

I wish I could find the words to express how much I enjoyed this performance - the dancers, the choreography, the lush sets and costumes, and dark brooding score.  

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Posted (edited)

I decided that my only opportunity to see Mayerling in the theater was to visit LA for a few days to see all three performances. (As far as I can tell, Houston Ballet is the only North American company that performs this ballet.)  I have the DVDs (both by the Royal Ballet) so I sort of knew what to expect. And I've long been fascinated by the tales of the Hapsburg dynasty. Overall, I am glad I saw this ballet, but have mixed feelings about it:

On the bright side:

  • The pas de deux for Prince Rudolf and five different women (wife, mother, mistresses) are quite extraordinary, filled with imagination, daring, and originality. It's amazing Rudolf makes it through all three grueling hours. (And I believe the originator of the role, David Wall, said it took five years off his career).
  • The pace of this complicated story is relentless. Despite numerous set changes for the various scenes, it never makes us pause and listen to filler music. Typically, a second curtain drops with action continuing in front while sets are being changed (very quietly).
  • With so many women in his life, several principals can be seen in one performance.
  • The ensemble work for the men is quite impressive, with lots of solo variations and opportunities to shine. You realize what a "deep bench" this company has.
  • I enjoyed picking out motifs MacMillan seems to favor from other ballets, especially Manon
    • The opening solos for Rudolf were reportedly choreographed on Antony Dowell, but he had to withdraw due to injury. (Source: Elizabeth Kaye's pre-performance talk.) You can see the same elegance and beautiful lines in the opening solos that you see in Des Grieux' variations in Manon, which Dowell did dance. In Act III, when Rudolf is in despair, he bends forward at the waist, hands clasped behind him, not unlike Des Grieux' anguished variations in Manon
    • In the house of ill-repute, in Act II, Mitzi (Rudolf's high-class prostitute) is passed around by four men in an interesting evocation of the second act of Manon. But while Manon was learning her "craft" anew, Mitzi seemed like an experience pro, so to speak. 
    • The throw double-twists from the final PdD in Manon are now seen in the ensemble in the second act in the bar.

Reservations:

  • The story is so complicated, it can be hard to figure out what's going on much of the time. The program notes are three short paragraphs that don't much help. At the bar, someone passes out pieces of papers which people read and are shocked. What are they shocked about? Not a clue anywhere, in the performance or the program notes. The Royal Ballet web site has a lot more detail and I wonder why they didn't include it in the program: https://www.roh.org.uk/news/mayerling-fact-and-fiction
  • At every performance, I heard people complain that they couldn't tell the characters apart, especially all those women in his life, often dressed in similar period dresses. I finally concluded: oh, here's another woman he had an affair with and treated badly and it doesn't matter which character it is.
  • This ballet leaves you drained, because of the story. There is no uplifting sense of great tragedy or resolution, just a sordid tale of a suicide pact between a crazy, narcissistic aristocrat and his love-blinded young mistress. Not MacMillan's fault, of course, as he based this on fact, as much as possible, but he did choose the story to tell.
  • Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: I am so tired of huge theaters with limited restrooms for women. Next time a male architect decides how much space there should be, how about we bring in a crew of women, who would surely triple or quadruple the available stalls. Why is this such a universal problem? And coffee but no espresso anywhere, except the Starbucks across the street...
Edited by California

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I'm glad you posted first California because I was going to make some of the same points--about the motifs from other Macmillan ballets (which I noticed more because I have been binging on filmed versions of Mayerling, Manon, and R&J so they were fresh in my mind), the performance notes (my companions flummoxed by the synopsis which ignores the political elements entirely)--and you did so better!

About being unable to tell the various women apart, I feel very badly for people who just showed up at the theater and were hoping to make sense of it. The first act happens so swiftly and relentlessly that there is not a lot of time to figure out who is who if you aren't familiar with the ballet or the dancers. I think this is made especially worse with Empress Elisabeth because she looks so young as played by McNally and Turk. McNally seemed older at least and had the bearing of an older woman, but Turk looked like a young mistress to all these older men (who are actually literally older making it all the more obvious how young she is), and in her first pdd with Rudolf she seemed like a scorned mistress more than his cold, imperious mother. Could a greying wig or some makeup help? I can see how this is a tough role to cast because it's a pointe intensive role but so much of understanding Rudolf's character arc hinges on the performance here that it seems necessary to cast so right.

In the end, while it's not fair to make comparisons, I found myself enjoying Soares and Cuthbertson today over Hirano and Osipova. While I wasn't in love with the way either played their character arcs necessarily, I feel like they had arcs which is what lacked for me on Friday (apart from Lamb/Larisch). Soares seemed like such a mommy's boy, and you could see how he was sort of stuck in that young boy phase (he was so excited as he flipped the pages of her book to get her attention). I felt he was at his peak in acting in Act 3--he really looked horrified and destroyed after shooting Mary, but also loved the scene where he is pleased with himself that Larisch is going to bring him Mary post-tavern. It's clear Soares is winding down his career and at times this showed in his technique but never to a point where he was bad or incapable; he obviously still had a lot to offer in the role (he was very charming during the bows and was caught hugging both Cuthbertson and Mendizabal, at different times, by the curtain coming up). Cuthbertson was a little too neat for me, but she also had an arc: she was very playful as opposed to dangerous (at one time she seemed more Manon to me), and to me, she seemed to hold onto that idea of being playful until the middle of the last pdd. When she goes over to the gun, looks at it, she turns on the same flirtatious look to Rudolf that she used in the Act 2 pdd to seduce him; she figures it might knock him out of his misery--she didn't, however, realize they weren't playing anymore until Rudolf made her put the gun down. I wasn't sure this Mary worked for me either but it felt more cohesive as a character with forward motion. I couldn't really understand the character motivations of Osipova's Mary--on one hand she was so over-the-top youthful with exuberance in the scene with Marie Larisch and on the other she seemed like a crazed person, grimacing and tossing herself around. It was hard to see the connections there, though she and Hirano were impressive physically.

Loved Lamb's Larisch. She seems like she directs so much of the ballet and you can tell what to look for in the scene by watching whatever she is watching. I always feel Lamb is a very cool (remote) dancer, but she was excellent in acting and dancing which is why I wanted to see her Vetsera (please share reports!). Mendizabal, in the Soares cast, was less satisfying after Lamb, though she and Soares had a good rapport. I felt her Larisch was a bit more self-involved versus Lamb's who was focused more on trying to help Rudolf; Lamb looked like she would stand up to the Empress as much as she could, but Mendizabal cowered in their interactions immediately. Also liked seeing Francesca Hayward as Stephanie though I think she is better cast as Mary in the future. Anna Rose Sullivan as Stephanie had a strong characterization (she was very clear on her worry about Rudolf from the very beginning of the ballet and seemed frozen in fear even before the wedding night pdd), I didn't think she was there technically; she wasn't really able to do the leg-shaking-in-terror-while-being-held-aloft move that is so signature from that pdd and I saw a lot of preparation faces (I make them too when I'm about to do something complicated!). Hayward, on the other hand, really threw herself in this scene in a rage, almost, at Hirano at points.

I'm sure I have a lot more to say  (haven't even touched on Nunez--fab; Bratfisch, played by Campbell and Kay--also fab), and like California, tried to absorb as much as I could because I love following the RB through their broadcasts/insight streams/etc. and figured I wouldn't frequently/ever get the chance to see Mayerling. As much as I quibbled above, I really enjoyed both performances and it's clear the RB has a lot of depth, both in technical strength and acting ability for a ballet that hinges so much on interpretation. I'm trying to envision ABT casting such a production and it's a mess (love them but it's true). 

 

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The Empress Elizabeth, "Sissi" was a fascinating woman in her own right and had MacMillan read a book about her before seeing the Mayerlng film, he may well have considered her worthy of a ballet instead.  Sissi was in many ways as obsessed with her appearance as a modern a day celebrity and was probably the first woman of her era to regularly work out in her gym, at one time considered the most beautiful woman in Europe, she wanted to keep it that way,  At the time the ballet is set she would have still resembled a young girl, so casting a svelte young dancer is actually appropriate.  Giving her a grey wig might help audiences work out she's the mother, but on the other hand showing her as she actually was, a rather chilly woman without maternal feelings who cared most about her own image really is best served by someone who looks that part. 

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As Mashinka has hinted to give "Sissi" a greying wig might have helped the audience but it would have destroyed MacMillan's portrait of her as a woman totally concerned with her image and her personal appearance.

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Posted (edited)

I read a biography of Empress Elisabeth in the mid-1970's, probably the same book referenced above by Mashinka as being read by MacMillan, as I was living in  Amsterdam in the time  and I regularly went over to London, where I would have bought the book. I recall reading that that she was  extremely concerned with her body and looks, precisely as stated by Mashinka, which included her long beautiful hair reaching well below her waist, and that she took long walks in the Prater in Vienna.   I was interested that in Act III, when she comes into Rudolph's room and orders Countess Larisch out, Empress Elisabeth's hair is down and it is waist-length, which is actually shorter than Empress Elisabeth's.  Undoubtedly women had long hair at that time, but I felt it was a reference to her famous hair in the ballet.  Consequently, it would have been wrong to give Empress Elisabeth grey hair just because people won't read or can't retain what is stated the program notes.  

I had a perfectly wonderful time at all the performances and loved the nuanced acting of everyone on stage.  I have favorite performances and dancers, but the level of dancing and characterization was high across the board.  I was also at the tech rehearsal on Friday.  With each performance I saw more details and appreciated the ballet better on all levels.  I would gladly have sat through another three performances.  I will comment on Thiago Soares's heart-wrenching performance on Sunday, which had me and others around me wiping away tears as the final two scenes unfolded. 

One other comment about Soares: in the scene where he inadvertently shoots someone in Act III, there was complete silence through to the end of that scene.  Not a cough was heard.  

I also have to mention the supreme grace of Lauren Cuthbertson and Sarah Lamb when they simply ran across the stage: you do not see this very often.  And the beautiful port de bras of the dancers.  What a great pleasure to see expressive hands that are not spiky-fingered and resembling  a bird-of-paradise flower (though I certainly appreciate Osipova, having seen her many times, Osipova has this fault, especially the left hand, in all that she does).  The Royal Ballet dancers' arms are devoid of tension and do not lock the elbow , which I see in so many companies, including my beloved SFB.  Beautiful port de bras is alive and fully operating within The Royal Ballet. 

I am so looking forward to the coming performances of the Ades/McGregor premiere of Inferno this weekend. 

Edited by Josette

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Posted (edited)

Resist!

Edited by Dreamer

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Posted (edited)

A bit delayed, but I'd like to post my impressions of the Saturday Mayerling!

A few months ago I was entranced by the televised McRae/Lamb performance and jumped at the chance to see Mayerling in person. I chose Saturday night mainly for my love of Sarah—the rest of the cast was, I think, almost the same as the televised version, with the exception of Matthew Ball. I read great reviews of his debut last year and was excited to see his take on the role. He was absolutely fantastic—his agony and hurt were so palpable. He was so sympathetic by the end, in fact, I found it hard to square his wounded persona with Rudolf's behavior in the first act. His mother's rejection helps to explain his horrific treatment of Stephanie, but ruining his wedding by flirting with the bride's sister didn't seem to fit with Matthew's overall interpretation. But this is really nitpicking—Matthew's dancing and acting were incredible, as were Sarah's. Only when the curtain fell did I realize I had been barely breathing from the start of the final pas de deux to the very end. Marcelino Sambé—whose speed elicited gasps and applause—and James Hay were also standouts.

I went with my boyfriend, and my parents, who live nearby, tagged along—I was shocked by how much they all enjoyed it! I was fully expecting my dad to sleep through the performance but every intermission he was raving about the show and asking me tons of questions about the plot. (I agree with the posts mentioning the inadequacy of the program notes. My dad thought that the Hungarian officers were Rudolf's "best men," employed to distract him and thus keep him from interfering in court affairs. I answered my family's questions as best I could, trying not to give too much away, but I was stumped when they asked why Mitzi Caspar blew Rudolf's cover to the prime minister.)

I am so, so glad the Royal brought Mayerling over—it definitely has its faults, but I think reviewers can sometimes get too caught up in the details and miss an overall spectacular ballet. The melodrama, the acrobatics, the crazy-but-true story...my parents immediately bought Twilight of Empire afterwards, which certainly speaks to their engagement with the work. One of my favorite nights at the ballet.

Edited by valsetriste
Grammar

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Posted (edited)

MacMillan employed a writer called Gillian Freeman to draw up the scenario for Mayerling. I believe that she read everything she could find on the subject of the deaths at Mayerling and the main characters involved. Needless to say she did a great deal of reading . As far as Mitzi Caspar is concerned her actions in the second act suggest that she betrayed Rudolf to Taafe telling him about the Crown Prince's  involvement with the Hungarian officers and their political schemes. Whatever you may think of the ballet MacMillan did not set out to create a documentary ballet. As was perhaps inevitable characters are broadly depicted and sometimes have to stand in for other historical characters 

In real life Rudolf suggested that Mitzi should die with him in a suicide pact.It was only when she refused that he decided to ask Mary Vetsera to die with him. Caspar is said to have told the authorities that Rudolf was planning to kill himself but they ignored her report. I could of course say that the fact that the audience is left with the impression that Mitzi is betraying Rudolf just shows the weaknesses of ballet as a narrative form because it can only tell a story through choreographed movement which can rarely convey the subtleties of personal motivation. But MacMillan would have been well aware of this limitation when he made the work as he had been making ballets for more than twenty years.  So perhaps he set out to show the audience something different. When he shows Mitzi engaged in activity which is at best ambiguous and at worst looks like out and out betrayal perhaps what he had in mind was to show us that Rudolf had good reason for his paranoia and for feeling that he could not go on. As Prime Minister Taafe spent a lot of time trying to persuade the Czechs, rather than the Hungarians, not to pursue nationalist policies which would have further divided the Empire. All we really need to know is that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a state in which the authorities were always engaged in surveillance of all levels in society. Perhaps in the great scheme of things the precise nature of Caspar's involvement with the authorities does not really matter and all we need to know is that she was in touch with them.

Edited by Ashton Fan

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4 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

When he shows Mitzi engaged in activity which is at best ambiguous and at worst looks like out and out betrayal perhaps what he had in mind was to show us that Rudolf had good reason for his paranoia and for feeling that he could not go on. 

That would make sense to me! I guess my difficulty there was the contrast between the scene where Rudolf asks Mitzi to join in the suicide pact—that part seems quite clear—juxtaposed with the ambiguity of her possible betrayal. 

Thank you for the rest of the information in your post. It’s been a while since I’ve read in-depth about the Mayerling incident and so I can’t remember what information came to light after MacMillian’s work premiered. I do remember that Twilight of Empire suggested that Rudolf was trying to break things off with Mary and didn’t want her at the lodge... It’s so interesting to have this material to read alongside the ballet!

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