Kenneth MacMillan's fourth full-length ballet relates the tragic story of the heir to the Austrian throne and his mistress. The choreographer's treatment of the 1889 double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and Mary Vetsera in light of the social, political and personal pressures that beset the two protagonists resulted in an extraordinarily shocking work, one widely considered to be his most outstanding. John Lanchbery selected the music for the ballet from the oeuvre of a Hungarian composer whose world renown led to his creating work for Empress Elisabeth. The role of Rudolf is one of the most trying challenges in the ballet literature, with the crown prince's psychological and emotional collapse depicted through two exceptionally intense pas de deux.
With Mayerling, MacMillan broke with 19th-century conventions and created a ballet that better matched the harsher realism of our time.