Choreography: Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Music: Franz Liszt arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery OBE





The psychological thriller of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling comes to the Wortham Theater stage for the first time after its Houston Ballet debut in 2017 as part of our Hometown Tour. An epic triumph in classical story-telling, this titillating three-act ballet tells the dark tale of Crown Prince Rudolf, the sole heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1880s. The work weaves a masterful story of scandal and political intrigue through an unhappy marriage, sensuous dalliances and morbid obsessions – all leading to the tragic murder-suicide of the Prince and his young mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Accompanied by glamorous costumes and exquisite scenery, Houston Ballet dancers’ acting, and dancing strengths are on full display in this theatrical production.



...this production is much the finest work I have seen by Houston Ballet.

New York Times



Crown Prince Rudolf, Baroness Mary Vetsera, Princess Stéphanie, Empress Elisabeth, Emperor Franz Josef, Countess Marie Larisch



The truth about the double death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and the 17-year-old Mary Vetsera has never been established because of an instant court cover-up. Rudolf 's unhappy political marriage to Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, his involvement with the Hungarian separatists’ cause, and the oppressive opposition of his father, Emperor Franz Josef, undoubtedly motivated the desperate conclusion at Mayerling. Memoirs and letters reveal that Rudolf was a depraved and often violent prince, and Mary an obsessive girl only too ready to die for the idea of love.


The cemetery at Heiligenkreuz before dawn


Scene 1: The ballroom at the Hofburg (Imperial Palace), Vienna
At the ball to celebrate his wedding to Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, Crown Prince Rudolf offends his parents and bride by flirting openly with Stéphanie’s sister, Princess Louise. Left alone, Rudolf meets Countess Larisch and Baroness Vetsera, who introduces her young daughter, Mary. They are interrupted by four Hungarian officers, friends of Rudolf, who forcefully plead the separatist cause of their country. Countess Larisch returns and tries to revive the intimacy of her past relationship with Rudolf. The Emperor discovers them and angrily orders Rudolf to return to his wife.

Scene 2: The Empress’s apartments at the Hofburg
Empress Elisabeth has retired from the ball and is enjoying the company of her ladies-in-waiting. Rudolf visits her before going to his bride. He is unhappy at his forced marriage and attempts to engage the Empress’s sympathy.

Scene 3: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg
Stéphanie is prepared for the wedding night. Rudolf finds her alone and, before making love to her, terrifies her with a revolver.




Scene 1: A notorious tavern
Accompanied by Bratfisch, Rudolf and Stéphanie arrive at the tavern in disguise. Seeing that Stéphanie is unhappy, Bratfisch does his best to amuse her. The harlots are resentful and try to recapture the attention of their clients; Stéphanie leaves in disgust. Rudolf devotes his attention to his mistress, Mitzi Caspar, and to his Hungarian friends. There is a police raid, during which Rudolf, Mitzi, and the Hungarian officers hide. Arrests are made and the police leave. In a mood of despair brought about by the constant surveillance, Rudolf suggests to Mitzi that they should commit suicide together. The Prime Minister Count Taafe enters, having been informed that Rudolf is in the tavern. Rudolf again conceals himself, but Mitzi indicates his presence to the Count, with whom she departs.

Scene 2: Outside the tavern
As Rudolf leaves his friends, Countess Larisch, aware of his identity, contrives to present Mary Vetsera, whom she is ostensibly chaperoning.

Scene 3: The Vetsera house
Countess Larisch calls on her friend, Baroness Vetsera, and finds Mary absorbed by a portrait of Rudolf. She takes a pack of cards and tells Mary’s fortune, assuring her that her romantic dreams will come true. Mary gives her a letter for Rudolf.

Scene 4: The Hofburg
During Franz Josef’s birthday celebration, Count Taafe confronts Rudolf with a political pamphlet. At the same time “Bay” Middleton offers the Prime Minister a joke cigar, greatly amusing Rudolf. Elisabeth presents the Emperor with a portrait of his “friend,” Katharina Schratt. A firework display diverts everyone except Elisabeth and Bay. Rudolf observes their amorous exchange and is bitterly resentful. The resumption of the fireworks gives Countess Larisch the opportunity to tease Rudolf with Mary’s letter.

Scene 5: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg
Mary and Rudolf meet in secret for the first time.




Scene 1: Countryside: A royal shoot
The pleasant day is shattered when Rudolf unaccountably fires wildly, killing a member of the court and narrowly missing the Emperor.

Scene 2: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg
The Empress discovers Countess Larisch with Rudolf and dismisses her, unaware that Mary is waiting outside. Mary joins Rudolf, who asks her to die with him.

Scene 3: The hunting lodge at Mayerling
Rudolf, drinking with Count Hoyos and Prince Philipp, indicates that he is unwell and they leave. Bratfisch arrives with Mary, and Rudolf commands him to entertain them. Bratfisch realizes he has lost their attention and withdraws. In a mounting frenzy of passion, Rudolf makes love to Mary. Calming his nerves with an injection of morphine, he embraces her once more then shoots her. Loschek, Hoyos, and Philipp, disturbed by the shot, are reassured by Rudolf who, left alone, shoots himself.


The cemetery at Heiligenkreuz before dawn


Sir Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992)


Hailed by The New York Times as “one of the century’s great choreographers” (September 12, 1993).  Sir Kenneth MacMillan was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1929 and received his dance training at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, later The Royal Ballet, a new company formed by Dame Ninette de Valois.  In 1953, Sir Kenneth’s first ballet, Somnambulism, was the hit of the evening, and from then on, he pursued a celebrated choreographic career.  From 1954 to 1965, he created over ten works for the Sadler’s Wells Company, including The Burrow (1958), Romeo and Juliet (1964), and Song of the Earth (1965).  In 1966, Sir Kenneth received an invitation to direct the Berlin Ballet at Deutsche Oper in West Berlin.  He took the company over and staged his own productions of The Sleeping BeautySwan Lake, and Anastasia.  Emerging as the natural successor to The Royal Ballet Director Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth assumed the directorship at the beginning of the 1970-1971 season.  He continued to choreograph and in 1974 created both Manon and Elite Syncopations, as well as Requiem (1976), and My Brother, My Sisters (1978), for Stuttgart Ballet.  Mayerling, which premiered at Covent Garden in 1978, had a triumphant American premiere in Los Angeles that same year, and was the subject of a London Weekend Television film that won the 1978 music category of the prestigious Prix Italia-the first ballet to do so. More works include La Fin du Jour (1979), Gloria (1980), Isadora (1981), Wild Boy for American Ballet Theatre (1981), Quartet (1982), Orpheus (1982), Valley of Shadows (1983) for The Royal Ballet. Sir Kenneth received his knighthood in 1983.  He served as Houston Ballet’s artistic associate from 1989 until his death in 1992.  He is survived by his wife Deborah and daughter Charlotte.  Houston Ballet has six works by Sir Kenneth in its repertoire: Song of the EarthGloriaElite SyncopationsSolitaire, Manon and Mayerling.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)


Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher Franz Liszt (1811–86) was one of the leading music figures of the Romantic movement, and the greatest piano virtuoso of his age. 

Liszt was born in Raiding and started learning the piano aged six. He gave his first public performance aged nine and soon became famed as a child prodigy. From 1839 to 1847 (a period known as Liszt’s Glanzzeit, or glory days) the adult Liszt gave more than a thousand concerts across Europe, creating the modern piano recital in terms of repertory, venue and performance style (he was also the first to use the word ‘recital’ in this way). Glanzzeit compositions include the ‘Paganini’ Studies, the ‘Transcendental’ Studies and his many remarkable transcriptions. In 1848 Liszt settled in Weimar, with works from this period including many symphonic poems (a genre he invented), the Faust-Symphonie, the B Minor Piano Sonata and numerous songs. In 1859 he moved to Rome and joined the Roman Catholic church, and joined a religious order in 1865. Works written in Rome include the oratorios Die Legende von der heiligen Elisabeth and Christus. From 1869 he split his time between Rome, Weimar and Budapest, in Weimar holding his famous masterclasses (another form he invented) and in Budapest becoming the first president of the newly formed National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in 1875. 

Liszt was a musical innovator, not only through his transformative use of the piano but in many other areas, including his increasingly radical use of harmony. He was a fervent supporter of the music of others, using his celebrated recitals to champion works by composers including Bach, Handel, Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner and Berlioz.



Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling  takes the stage at the Wortham Theater Center for the first time, after its debut during the Hometown Tour following Hurricane Harvey in 2018 at The Hobby Center for Performing Arts.  Previous ballets by Sir Kenneth MacMillan in Houston Ballet's repertoire are Manon, Gloria, Song of the Earth, Solitaire, and Elite Syncopations



LIBRETTO: Gillian Freeman

GENRE: Classical Ballet

RUN TIME: Ballet in 3 Acts; approximately 3 hours

LOCATION: Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, Texas

COMPOSER: Franz Liszt, arrangement by John Lanchbery OBE

SCORE: Excerpts from Liszt compositions; Faust Symphony, Mephisto Waltz, Twelve Transcendental Studies, Soirée de Vienne, etc.

ORIGINAL PREMIERE DATE: February 14, 1978 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England by the Royal Ballet

HOUSTON BALLET PREMIERE DATE: September 22, 2017 in Sarofim Hall at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts in Houston, Texas



BENESH NOTATION SCORE: Jacquie Hollander and Lyn Vella-Gatt


COACH FOR HOUSTON BALLET (2024): Robert Tewsley

Ermanno Florio and Simon Thew
• Ani Kushyan, mezzo-soprano 
• Richard Bado, Piano



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