The second Royal Ballet "Mayerling" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center paired Hungarian firebrand Zoltan Solymosi with Australian lyric paragon Leanne Benjamin in the leading roles of the doomed lovers Crown Prince Rudolf and Mary Vetsera.
Tall, with superbly expressive hands, Solymosi threw himself into the gymnastic partnering challenges on Wednesday with great daring, although he couldn't always make these passages appear an expression of character. His acting tended to ricochet from one effect to another--with puzzling shifts in and out of drunkenness, for example, during the tavern scene. But Solymosi's best moments as Rudolf--the scene with his mother, his yearning for Mary--proved very impressive indeed.
Tiny, with enormous eyes, Benjamin never seemed to have more than a schoolgirl crush on her partner, so this Mary became more of a victim than a collaborator in their final murder-suicide. However, Benjamin's dancing remained exemplary in its pliancy, lightness, drive and line.
In other new casting Wednesday, Deborah Bull made Mitzi Caspar a high-class prostitute indeed--far more elegant, in fact, than Fiona Chadwick's flagrantly cheap Countess Larisch. (Chadwick had played Mitzi in the Tuesday performance.) Both artists danced strongly but Elizabeth McGorian outclassed them with a complex, restrained, highly sympathetic portrayal of the Empress.
David Drew doddered ineffectually as the Emperor, Anthony Bourne soloed capably as Bratfisch and, as Princess Louise, Benazir Hussein made a disarmingly vulnerable diversion for Rudolf in the first ballroom scene. Jane Burn again danced Princess Stephanie and Barry Wordsworth again conducted.
* The Royal Ballet performs different programs at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, through Sunday. Tickets $20-$70 at the box office, (714) 556-ARTS, Ext. 240.