Scottish Ballet presents the world premiere of ‘The Scandal at Mayerling’ – a real life Romeo & Juliet tale of passionate love and tragic death.
With unwitting, timely prescience, (following recent Royal scandals), Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s epic narrative ballet has now been reimagined afresh by Scottish Ballet in a dramatic new touring production.
Originally created by MacMillan, an innovative, ground-breaking choroegrapher, for the Royal Ballet in 1978, The Scandal at Mayerling is based on the tragic, true story of Crown Prince Rudolf, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and his wife, Elisabeth.
When he was 23, his parents selected 16 year old Princess Stephanie of Belgium to be his wife but this was a very unhappy, arranged marriage. A few years later when Rudolph met and fell in love with Baroness Mary Vetsera, his parents demanded that he swiftly end the affair, and also that he could not divorce Stephanie.
On the morning of January 30, 1889, the bodies of Rudolf, aged 30, and Mary, aged just 17, were found at the Hunting lodge, Mayerling in the woods outside Vienna. The scandal of the affair and apparent suicide pact was immediately hushed up by the Austrian Royal family. As heir to the throne, Rudolf’s death, publicly announced as a heart attack, left the succession in jeopardy, dividing the Hapsburg empire which ultimately led to the Great War in 1914.
The Mayerling Incident, full of mystery, murder and intrigue, has been adapted many times for the movie screen: a 1936 French movie starring Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux; Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, (1957); Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve, (1968). The Illusionist, (2006), set in Vienna, 1900 is a fictionalised version of the royal romance.
This passionate story of real life star-crossed lovers also inspired Sir Kenneth MacMillan to devise a narrative ballet, exploring the social, political and personal background of Crown Prince Rudolf, set within the opulent grandeur of the Royal court. John Lanchbery, conductor of the Royal Ballet orchestra, suggested Liszt as the composer, selecting over thirty pieces to orchestrate into an atmospheric, lyrically lush score.
The premiere of Mayerling took place on Valentine’s Day 1978 at a Royal gala with David Wall as Prince Rudolf and Lynn Seymour as Mary Vetsera. The audience gave the ballet and MacMillan, a prolonged ovation and the critics praised the ballet’s boldness and originality: Mary Clarke described ‘.. a thrilling, moving theatrical experience’. Clement Crisp commented that MacMillan had moved the three-act ballet from its 19th century structure and conventions into the realism of modern life. And after a revival by the Royal Ballet at the Met. New York, Anna Kisselgoff was impressed by ‘great dancing, great acting on a level of sophistication and richness of detail’.
Opening in April at the Theatre Royal Glasgow before a Scottish tour, Scottish Ballet now presents a sumptuous new version entitled The Scandal at Mayerling, featuring the full company of forty dancers. This world premiere will be the first time MacMillan’s iconic ballet has been produced in the UK outside London.
The drama centres on the Prince and his relationship with the women in his life – his wife, his mother and his mistresses – dramatised through a series of intense duets.
Rudolph is a desperate, disturbed young man, trapped in a charmed world of royal wealth and privilege, seeking an escape in in the reckless pursuit of women (both nobles and prostitutes), drink (Cognac and Champagne), drugs (morphine), and revolutionary politics. He also has a morbid fascination with death. With clear echoes of another anti hero, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he was obsessed with a skull and a revolver which he keeps in his room, as he delves into a deteriorating state of psychosis and addiction.
MacMillan’s precise and potent choreographic storytelling focuses on characterisation with psychological insight to relate a brutal account of human nature, in a way which only dance can express. With his moods ranging from desire to rage, Rudolf is one the most demanding male roles created in British ballet requiring a high level of technique and stamina coupled with strong acting skills.
However, the dancers of Scottish Ballet excel at dramatic clarity as recently illustrated in the stunning adaptations of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Crucible, based on the iconic plays by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.
“The Scandal at Mayerling” is a story rich with political intrigue, conflicting emotions, passion and obsession played out against an archaic and crumbling empire. Sir Kenneth’s choreography is some of the most visceral and emotionally charged ever produced – it demands our attention right up to the ill-fated conclusion.” Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director/CEO of Scottish Ballet .
This revival has been adapted and staged by Christopher Hampson and Gary Harris in association with the choreographer’s widow, Lady Deborah MacMillan:
“Kenneth didn’t set out to shock people but was acutely aware that in the ballet world of fairies and tutus, more realistic insights into human behaviour might prove difficult. There is a strong Scottish connection – Kenneth was born in Dunfermline – and Scottish Ballet attests to the highest aims of ballet companies worldwide, performing the best of the classics as well as looking to the future in choreography and designs.”
This bold, ambitious new production features an elaborate stage set and lavish costumes with the Franz Liszt score performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.
Dancers and rehearsal staff are taking part in a series of workshops with the Fight and Intimacy Direction company, Rc-Annie. Training in the safe use of replica imitation firearms will also create the authenticity for realistic theatre.
The historical mystery of the Mayerling Scandal has recently had a new twist. In 2015, a long forgotten collection of letters found hidden in a bank vault in Vienna might now reveal the secrets behind one of the world’s greatest love stories.
“Please forgive me, I could not resist love,’ wrote Mary Vetsera in a farewell letter to her mother, Helen, ‘I am happier in death than life.’
Apparently, an unknown person had deposited a leather-bound folder containing personal documents, letters and photographs of the Vetsera family, including Mary’s letters, which were finally discovered, 126 years after her death.
Dark, dangerous and daring, ‘The Scandal at Mayerling’ by Scottish Ballet promises to be a richly romantic and captivating dance drama. With a tasty flavour of the raunchy, period TV drama, Bridgerton, (with more bite), it’s sure to be a smash hit and described once again, as in 1978 as “a thrilling, moving, experience.”
Book your tickets now!
Scottish Ballet – The Scandal at Mayerling
Tour dates: 13-16 April 2022:Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 21-23 April 2022: Eden Court, Inverness, 5-7 May 2022: His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 25-28 May 2022: Festival Theatre Edinburgh
Age guidance 12+