Mayerling, Royal Opera House, London – review

This, you may say with some feeling for déjà vu phenomena, is to be another ecstatic review for Mayerling (back in the Opera House repertory last Friday night) and for Edward Watson. Of course! How not to salute MacMillan’s masterpiece of still-astounding danced and dramatic sensibilities? How not to praise a dancer who understands every least twitch of Archduke Rudolf’s psyche, and shows us – with a physical and emotional finesse, an inevitability that pierces the heart – a man descending into mania and darkest tragedy? Here is artistry tremendous in expressive force, in intensity and intelligence. Here is a great dancer.

But there was something no less significant in this performance. Here was the Royal Ballet, our national troupe, performing with an assurance, a technical and emotional integrity, that are too often absent in the accounts of the old classics – Swan Lake et al – and in the modish ephemera that pass nowadays for the new work vital for the continuing life of the troupe.

Ballet companies are born, like us all, with a genetic destiny. Ninette de Valois imbued her company with the ideal of a classical identity allied to a home-grown creative future. We ignore this fact at our (and the troupe’s) peril, and the imprecise academic standards seen in some of the repertory, the neurotic jiggery-pokery of certain novelties, suggest that identity is being eroded.

This Mayerling told of the greatness of the troupe, of its dramatic power as an ensemble, its musical sensibilities, its integrity of means – its national significance, in sum. Watson is peerless, prodigious; Mara Galeazzi an impetuously true Mary Vetsera; Sarah Lamb an astonishment as Larisch, beautiful, mondaine, calculating, utterly real. Other roles were given with an ideal assurance, and at every moment the company showed us Mayerling’s power with grandest skill.

Here was the Royal Ballet at its most powerful in identity – the national ensemble Dame Ninette intended and guided from its first steps. The orchestra under Martin Yates played with a power that matched the danced performance. A superlative evening. To Edward Watson, to every artist on stage and in the orchestra, laurels, gratitude.

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