“Mayerling”, the dark splendor of a cursed prince

Under the colors of Chagall, the garnet velvets and gilded stuccoes of the Palais Garnier shine with a particular brilliance, bathed in the recognizable scent of great evenings. Not only has the Opera ballet finally found its new director – in the person of José Martinez, former star of the house – but the company also sees its repertoire enriched this autumn with several prestigious works. Before the Kontakthof of Pina Bausch in December, the dancers set off to attack Mayerlinga vast narrative fresco by Kenneth MacMillan, hitherto reserved for the Royal Ballet in London, where it was premiered in 1978.

The embodied malaise

On the set too, after a furtive prologue – the image of a coffin hastily buried in the rain, which leaves no doubt as to the outcome of the story – the party is in full swing. Under the amazed eyes of the public, dozens of guests competing in elegance make their entrance on the courtyard side. What a procession! The flood of colorful taffetas, glittering adornments, ladylike jackets, lustrous mustaches and neat curls seem endless.

In the ballroom of the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the court waltzes to celebrate the wedding of Rodolphe, Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, and Stephanie of Belgium. Only a young man, in a light uniform covered with cockades and a strict beard collar, is not smiling. Melancholy, locked in distant thoughts, it is about the young groom who tries to seduce a woman… who is not his.

MacMillan’s ballet, to a libretto by Gillian Freeman, follows the escapades of Rodolphe, a neurotic and sickly prince, addicted to sex and various drugs. After killing his young mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, barely 17 years old, the descendant of the Habsburgs committed suicide on January 30, 1889 in the hunting lodge of Mayerling – which gives its title to the ballet and, before it, to the film by Terence Young, with Catherine Deneuve and Omar Sharif in the main roles.

The couple is embodied here by the stars Dorothée Gilbert and Hugo Marchand in a performance that combines technical virtuosity and intensity of dramatic interpretation. The audience, dazzled, vibrates with each of their steps and the multiple acrobatic lifts that punctuate a particularly physical choreography. From the sealing of their terrible suicidal pact to their final pas de deux, they inhabit this dance where Eros and Thanatos dialogue in a striking intimacy.

Dazzling performers

Breathtaking, Hugo Marchand plunges into the dark twists and turns of a character whose full complexity he demonstrates. Whether he walks the stage in athletic variations or simply stands still, during the recital of an opera singer – a splendid mise en abyme of a concert at the Imperial Palace which offers the Parisian public a moment of grace – the dancer embraces the audience with a palette of subtle emotions nourished by pain and unease.

MacMillan explores Rodolphe’s psyche through confrontations with female figures, carried here by a brilliant constellation of soloists: Dorothée Gilbert, of course, but also the stars Laura Hecquet – in the role of his mother, with a cold and distant beauty. – and Valentine Colasante – Mitzi Caspar, his former mistress –, the first dancers Hannah O’Neill, with sparkling duplicity as Countess Marie Larisch, lover and fatal matchmaker, and Silvia Saint-Martin, as unhappy wife.

On their wedding night, Rodolphe, armed with a gun and a human skull, terrorizes the young woman in a scene that freezes the blood and arouses real unease. MacMillan develops a spectacular choreography there, drawing its springs from an aestheticized violence with a complacency that is difficult to accept today. Faced with such brutality – and the formal beauty that emanates from it – the viewer oscillates between horror and fascination. A double feeling which will not leave him throughout the two hours forty of this fresco deployed on the music of Franz Liszt. The romantic breath of the score, just like the splendor of the sets and costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis – magnificently recreated by the workshops of the Paris Opera –, multiply, by this very contrast, the extent of the dark spectrum of these lost souls.

Kenneth MacMillan, Master of Narrative Ballet

1929. Kenneth MacMillan was born in Dunfermline, Scotland.

1944. Enters the dance school of Sadler’s Wells in London, future school of the Royal Ballet.

1965. Appointed official choreographer of the Royal Ballet, of which he became artistic director in 1970. He resigned from this position in 1977 to devote himself to choreography.

February 14, 1978. Creation of a ballet in three acts: Mayerling at the Royal Opera House in London, with David Wall as Rudolf and Lynn Seymour as Mary Vetsera.

1990. Kenneth MacMillan transmits to the Paris Opera Manon’s Storywhich he created in 1974 in London based on the novel by Abbé Prévost.

October 29, 1992. Death, backstage at the Royal Opera House, during a revival of Mayerling.

Source : BBN NEWS

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