Under Christopher Hampson’s direction, Scottish Ballet has found a rich vein of refurbishing the work of long-departed choreographers. Having opened this season with a revitalised iteration of Gene Kelly’s Pas de Dieux (renamed Starstruck) it is closing with a redacted and updated version of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s full-length ballet, Mayerling, reconfigured as The Scandal at Mayerling. Kelly and MacMillan considered working on a project together but both died before this could happen. It’s a salutary thought that their joint project should come together posthumously, decades later, in Scottish Ballet’s 2021-22 programme. While some might, with justification, question the topical relevance of these works in 2022, it nonetheless shows the enduring influence of excellent choreographic concepts.

Evan Loudon (Crown Prince Rudolf)
© Andy Ross

Mayerling needs a large company and a big stage and neither Scottish Ballet nor Glasgow’s Theatre Royal have the necessary capacity, hence the need for this distillation of the ballet into the essence of the personal relationships leading to the murder/suicide of Mary Vetsera and Crown Prince Rudolf in the Imperial Hunting Lodge at Mayerling, outside Vienna, in 1889. MacMillan’s ballet has been cut to two acts, including the excision of two entire scenes – Emperor Franz Josef’s birthday at the Hofburg Palace and the imperial shooting party – which enable acts 2 and 3 to be conjoined. The downside is that these omissions showed key elements in Rudolf’s mental degeneration: firstly, in the hypocrisy of his parents’ open affairs with the singer Katherina Schratt and Colonel ‘Bay’ Middleton (neither character appears in this new iteration); and secondly in Rudolf’s killing of a bystander by carelessly firing his rifle. Another slight anomaly is that the scene in which Countess Larisch ushers Mary into Rudolf’s bedroom now immediately follows Mary proving herself a match for Rudolf’s sexually-charged and morbid fantasies when spending the night with him. This juxtaposition now seems odd.

Evan Loudon (Crown Prince Rudolf) and Sophie Martin (Mary Vetsera)
© Andy Ross

MacMillan deliberately opens each act with a crowd scene, which then focuses down onto the personal relationships between Rudolf and his wife, mother and sundry lovers.  In The Scandal at Mayerling the scale and context of those all-encompassing scenes has been curtailed but with a silver lining that places even greater emphasis on the psychology of Rudolf’s private associations; the necessary intimacy greatly enhanced by the smaller stage and closer proximity of performers to the audience.

The first act was a good example of this trade-off. The opening state ball celebrating the marriage of Rudolf to Princess Stephanie of Belgium lacked the necessary splendour and ceremony that MacMillan and his dramaturg, Gillian Freeman, achieved so memorably in the original ballet (this iteration was more like a fancy dress party in the village hall); but the following scenes were powerfully delivered in terms of establishing Rudolf’s relationships with his mother, the Empress Elisabeth (a commanding performance by Marge Hendrick) and in the brutalising of his wife on their wedding night (Constance Devernay splendid as the terrified bride). 

Marge Hendrick (Empress Elisabeth) and Evan Loudon (Crown Prince Rudolf)
© Andy Ross

Evan Loudon rose to one of the mightiest challenges in the ballet repertoire with aplomb, starting a little shakily but growing into the role with a fine attention to the detail of Rudolf’s psychological meltdown, leading to a final scene of wild-eyed despair. That this finale was such a thrilling conclusion also owed much to the stellar performance of Sophie Martin as Mary Vetsera, exhibiting every scintilla of self-destructive adoration that led to her submission to Rudolf’s death wish for two.

Roseanna Leney was suitably minxish and unrepentant as Countess Larisch, Rudolf’s former lover and procuress, and the scene in which the Empress violently ejects Larisch from Rudolf's bedroom was very powerfully played by Hendrick and Leney. Bethany Kingsley-Garner shone in her single scene at the brothel as Mitzi Caspar, another of Rudolf’s lovers and a spy for the Prime Minister, Count Taafe (Constant Vigier). The brothel scene showed a fine attention to all the background detail and I loved the novel way in which the prostitutes fought back against the police raid (they always reminds me of the Keystone Cops), and there was an excellent cameo by Bruno Micchiardi as Rudolf’s entertaining coachman, Bratfisch. Emperor Franz Josef was just short of 60 at the time of these events and, despite the grey wig, Matthew Broadbent appeared too youthful for the role, albeit compensating with an imperious demeanour.

Marge Hendrick (Empress Elisabeth) and Roseanna Leney (Countess Larisch)
© Andy Ross

The orchestra also required pruning for this production, the normal 80-strong ensemble being reduced to 55, performing Martin Yates’ excellent rearrangement of John Lanchbery’s original three-hour composite of Franz Liszt’s greatest hits. It’s impossible to see the joins in Yates’ new orchestration. His new arrangement joins excerpts from the Faust Symphony, Mephisto Waltz no. 1, 12 Transcendental Études and Soirées de Vienne. Yates conducted the enlarged Scottish Ballet Orchestra in an outstanding performance from the pit that matched the excellence on stage.

****1