Viviana Durante dances Mary Vetsera
Just one hundred and twenty-five years ago, Crown Prince Rupert, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, took his teenage mistress Mary Vetsera to the hunting lodge at Mayerling, a small village in Lower Austria. The site is now open to the public, and you may visit it for €3.
To this day no one can say for sure what happened there. Perhaps it was a suicide pact. Perhaps a murder and a suicide. But either way, Crown Prince Rupert and his lover were both found dead of gunshot wounds. Perhaps for Rupert it was the only way out. Suffering from venereal disease, and addicted to drugs and guns, he was at odds with his family and his wife, and had been implicated in support for Hungarian separatists. But the event was a tragedy on a Shakespearean scale, and one which has fascinated successive generations. Indeed there are parallels with Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers with their families against their union, with death the only resolution to their problem.
The story has been treated in many ways, but Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Mayerling is surely one of the most moving. It uses the music of Liszt, selected and arranged for the ballet by John Lanchberry. I find that some of the ballets set to music from the œuvres of the great composers are amongst the most satisfying — and they certainly beat modern compositions for modern ballets. Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, for example, originally choreographed for Fonteyn & Nureyev and recently revived by the Royal Ballet with the stunning Tamara Rojo, also uses Liszt’s music. “Manon” uses Massenet. It is being revived by the Royal Ballet this year — Sept 26th to Nov 1st. The Paris Opera’s “La Dame aux Camélias” uses Chopin (and features the delightful Agnès Letestu).
For some time I have had the DVD of the 1994 Royal Ballet Covent Garden production of Mayerling. Recently I couldn’t resist the temptation to get the later version from 2009, which is technically superior, and in the modern 16 by 9 format, rather than the old-fashioned and squarer 12 by 9. I bought the later version not least because it featured American Ballerina Sarah Lamb. I’m a great fan of Sarah Lamb, and would go a long way to see her dance, although I’m not sure that the part of Countess Marie Larisch, former mistress of Rupert, showed her to best advantage. Nor did I think that Laura Morera as Mitzi Caspar, a courtesan and Rupert’s regular mistress, could hold a candle to Darcey Bussell, who danced the rôle in the earlier version. Darcey was just extraordinarily beautiful, and seductive, and provocative, and brought alive the nightclub scene in the second act.
But my biggest disappointment was Mara Galeazzi as Mary Vetsera (in 2009). The part was danced in the 1994 version by Viviana Durante, who radiates mystery and exoticism and romance. That’s compelling in itself, but it’s also fundamental to the plot. With Viviana, one could see Crown Prince Rudolph prepared to give up everything, including, in the end, life itself, for the sake of this remarkable woman, and the pas de deux scenes towards the end of the ballet, and preceding the fatal shootings, are simply electric — both the best dancing, and the best drama, you could hope to see.
Mara Galeazzi, who danced Mary Vetsera in 2009, is a worthy and technically accomplished dancer — all credit to her — but she lacks that special magic, that fatal fascination that Viviana Durante had in spades: the fatal fascination that took Rupert and Mary to their tragic deaths. Mayerling is a great and moving narrative ballet, and unlike so many ballets, based on real events If you have any interest in drama and dance, do get the DVD. But my advice would be to get the earlier version, despite the square format.