BWW Review: MAYERLING, Royal Opera House
It's never easy to debut in a role when half the audience bought tickets to see someone else, but this was the situation Ryoichi Hirano faced last week as announcement of Edward Watson's injury was made.
Watson is known for his compelling portrayal of the multifaceted role of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. Nonetheless, Hirano makes an honourable go of the challenge, assisted ably by a stellar female line-up in MacMillan's now 40-year-old ballet.
Hirano's troubled protagonist displays flashes of storminess in the opening two acts, but not quite enough to convince the audience of his turmoil. He is a fine and controlled dancer, but at times he doesn't convey Rudolph's psyche with the maturity needed, instead coming off a little aloof and detached. His portrayal doesn't noticeably develop until he hits his stride in a devastating Act Three conclusion.
Of the many wonderful female interpretations perhaps the most unforgettable is from Principal Francesca Hayward, whose ease of movement and commitment to the role of Princess Stephanie makes for wonderful storytelling.
Her petite stature makes her terror in face of Hirano's towering presence all the more believable. She is stoic in her duty to her husband during the court scenes whilst in private with him she trembles, but fights gallantly.
Conversely, Natalia Osipova tackles the role of Rudolph's teenage mistress, Mary Vetsera, with youthful abandon, and drives the couple's first pas de deux excitedly and breathlessly. She is relentless in her pursuit and enthralled by their suicide pact, skittish even, but Hirano displays these emotions internally and together they don't share chemistry.
No fewer than six Principals grace the stage in this particular casting. Marianela Nunez makes for a knowing Mitzi Caspar, who flashes a smile that speaks of the professionalism with which she treats her role as Rudolph's high-class whore, but it's not substantial enough for a dancer of her rank. Alexander Campbell is a wonderfully spritely Bratfisch, breezing through his cheerful solos with panache in a fruitless attempt at relieving Rudolph's suffering.
Mayerling will not be a ballet to all tastes. It's a heavy night out with endless characters to get to grips with, and the morbid fascination with guns and death and are encapsulated within Nicholas Georgiadis's stunning designs of Austrian court. (The birthday party in Act II is particularly beautiful).
There are some wonderfully powerful pas de deux that allow for deep characterisation, but it's a ballet that demands high-quality acting; there are no decorative roles to hide in. It made me yearn for the light relief of a Nutcracker, for all its fine details, but some will find delight in its darkness.
Image credit: Helen Maybanks