So I've been spending a lot of time lately with some rather extraordinary rare creatures of the stage, this time the ladies and gents of the Royal Ballet. Yes, that's right. Me. The great two left-footed Heffalump is in a ballet.
But before you all get too excited, no, no I'm not dancing. (Sighs of relief resound throughout the land). I'm singing. Yes. In a ballet. It's the rather wonderful Mayerling, by Kenneth MacMillan, set to a lavish score of Liszt's music and masterfully orchestrated by John Lanchbery.
The piece is one of the great masterpieces of the Royal Ballet, a lavish, violent and intensely brooding rendering of the last days in the life of Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Joseph. His death in an apparent suicide pact with his teenage lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, had repercussions that were eventually felt worldwide, with the shooting of the replacement heir to the throne, Franz Joseph's nephew, Franz Ferdinand.
As Katharina Schratt, "friend" (*cough* mistress) of the Emperor, I have a rather lovely featured cameo in Act 2, singing the wistful Ich Scheide. And yes, she was a real person and the Emperor's lover. She was quite a force of nature, going on to become the widely acknowledged "Uncrowned Empress of Austria". Read all about her fascinating life here-
And you can read a brief rundown on the "Mayerling incident" here-
I have a rota of Imperial boyfriends (shoutout to Gary, Christopher, Tom and Alastair) and there are 4 principal casts in all. I even have two different onstage accompanists. And they portray a real-life character too - Alfred Grünfeld, composer and pianist and one of the first musicians to make commercially available recordings of their work. Truly, this is a real onstage "world within a world".
Having spent a lifetime in the opera, it's a rare treat and a huge privilege to be involved in such a masterwork of the ballet stage. I sneak backstage and watch as much as I can of the four different principal casts. Each one brings it own special take on the characters. The interplay between lovers Rudolf and Mary, the cheeky Mitzi Caspar in Act 2, the rather tragic Princess Stephanie and of course the scheming Larisch. I don't think I'll ever tire of watching this piece, there's so much to see - sideways glances, stolen kisses, court intrigues.
The amazing athletic ability of, in particular, the men playing Rudolf, is mind boggling and I feel especially privileged to have seen the magnificent Edward Watson dance this role, "up close and personal". If you think it's exciting from the stalls, you should be onstage with it! There can be few greater pleasures in life than being danced around by four principals from the Royal Ballet and a scowling Ed Watson!
Everything really is beautiful at the ballet.