Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Mayerling (ballet)

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Choreographer  Kenneth MacMillan
Original ballet company  Royal Ballet
Genre  Neoclassical ballet
Premiere  1978 London
Setting  Austria
Type  classical ballet
Mayerling (ballet)

Mayerling is a ballet created in 1978 by Kenneth MacMillan for the Royal Ballet, London.



Prologue: The cemetery at Heiligenkreuz before dawn

Act I

Scene 1: The ballroom at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna

A ball to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and Princess Stephanie of Belgium is in full swing. Rudolf flirts shamelessly with Stephanie's sister, Princess Louise, offending both his new bride and his parents, Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth. Rudolf meets Countess Marie Larisch, a former mistress, and Baroness Vetsera. The Baroness introduces her 17-year-old daughter Mary Vetsera. Four Hungarian officers, friends of Rudolf, enter and forcefully argue the separatist cause of their country. Countess Larisch tries to rekindle her relationship with Rudolf. The pair are discovered by the Emperor, who demands that Rudolf return to his wife.

Scene 2: The Empress’s apartments at the Hofburg

Having retired from the ball, Empress Elisabeth is being attended by her ladies-in-waiting. Rudolf visits his mother, on his way to his new bride. He expresses his deep unhappiness at being pressured into marriage. Desperate for maternal affection he tries to embrace the Empress, only to be coldly rebuffed.

Scene 3: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg

Princess Stephanie is getting ready for her wedding night. Rudolf enters and threatens Stephanie with a revolver before making love to her.

Act II

Scene 1: A notorious tavern

Rudolf and Stephanie enter the tavern in disguise. They are accompanied by Rudolf's driver Bratfisch, who attempts to lighten Stephanie’s spirits. Prostitutes compete for the men’s attention and Stephanie flees the tavern in disgust. Rudolf turns his attention to his Hungarian friends and his regular mistress, the courtesan Mitzi Caspar. The police burst in and Rudolf, Mitzi and the Hungarian officers hide. The police arrest several people before leaving. In a despairing mood, Rudolf proposes a suicide pact to Mitzi. The Prime Minister Count Taaffe enters the tavern, looking for Rudolf. Rudolf hides again but Mitzi tells the Count where he is hidden. The Count and Mitzi leave together.

Scene 2: Outside the tavern

Countess Larisch, ostensibly chaperoning Mary, presents the young girl to Rudolf as he leaves the tavern.

Scene 3: The Vetsera house

Countess Larisch calls on her friend Baroness Vetsera. She finds Mary absorbed by a portrait of Rudolf. Countess Larisch tells Mary’s fortune using a pack of cards and informs her that her romantic dreams will come true. Mary gives the Countess a letter to deliver to Rudolf on her behalf.

Scene 4: The Hofburg

During the Emperor's birthday celebrations Count Taaffe confronts Rudolph over an incriminating political pamphlet on the Hungarian cause. Colonel ‘Bay’ Middleton hands the Count a joke cigar, to Rudolf's intense amusement. The Empress presents the Emperor with a portrait of his 'friend' Katherina Schratt. A firework display distracts everyone except the Empress and ‘Bay.’ Rudolf notices their amorous exchange and becomes bitterly resentful. Countess Larisch produces Mary’s letter and teases Rudolf with it.

Scene 5: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg

Mary and Rudolf meet in secret for the first time.


Scene 1: A royal shoot in the countryside

During a hunting expedition, Rudolf unaccountably shoots wildly. He kills a member of the court, narrowly missing his father.

Scene 2: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg

The Empress discovers Countess Larisch and Rudolf alone together and angrily dismisses the Countess, unaware Mary is waiting outside. Mary enters after the Empress has left. Rudolf asks her to commit suicide with him.

Scene 3: The hunting lodge at Mayerling

Rudolf shares a drink with Count Hoyos and Prince Philipp of Coburg, attended by his valet Loschek. He asks them to leave, saying he is unwell. Bratfisch enters with Mary. Rudolf instructs Bratfisch to entertain him and Mary. Bratfisch, soon realizing he has lost their attention, leaves. In a mounting frenzy Rudolf makes love to Mary. He injects himself with morphine to calm his nerves and embraces Mary for the last time. He shoots her. Loschek, Hoyos and Philipp rush in, having heard the shot. Rudolf reassures them and instructs them to leave. Alone, he shoots himself. His friends rush in again, and collapse in despair when they find Rudolf's dead body.

Epilogue: The cemetery at Heiligenkreuz before dawn

Original production

Mayerling was first produced for the Royal Ballet in 1978, by the British choreographer Sir Kenneth Macmillan, with a scenario written by Gillian Freeman, scenery and costume designs by Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting design by David Hersey. Music for the ballet was compiled from existing works by Franz Liszt, arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery who also conducted the orchestra during the ballet's first season. The ballet was dedicated to the Royal Ballet's founder choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, and premiered at the Royal Opera House, London, on 14 February 1978. The Royal Opera House collections have archive information from twelve performances of this ballet, including the premiere and subsequent revivals.

Critical reception

The original production was, in general, well received by critics, however there were some reservations. Many reviewers found the ballet overly long and the historical background of the story difficult to follow. However, Mary Clarke in the Guardian defended the complexity of the work: "Easy, after one or two viewings, to say this or that scene must go. But patience and understanding bring rewards; every scene tells something about Rudolf and the Court of Vienna in his time."

Moscow premiere, Stanislavsky Ballet, March 2013

  • Sergei Polunin Crown Prince Rudolf
  • Royal Ballet, April 2007

    * substitute for Alexandra Ansanelli


    MacMillan died of a heart attack on 29 October 1992, backstage at Covent Garden at a revival of Mayerling.


    Mayerling (ballet) Wikipedia