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The Scandal at Mayerling


The year is 1889 and, in the woods outside Vienna, the royal family must hide a terrible secret.

At the royal Mayerling hunting lodge, Crown Prince Rudolf is found shot dead alongside his teenage mistress.  

We rewind the clock to watch this desperate young man, the heir to the throne, plunge into his own paranoia. Trapped by the stifling opulence of the Habsburg court, Rudolf’s mental turmoil envelops all those around him. In a series of increasingly intense duets with his mother, his wife, and his mistress, Rudolf descends deeper into his obsession with death, and hurtles towards tragedy. 

Rudolf’s morbid fascination, sexual appetite and ultimate violence make this real-life anti-hero as compelling as Hamlet, while Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s breathtaking choreography takes us on a physical and emotional rollercoaster. The sweeping intensity of the ballet is matched by the sumptuous music of Franz Liszt, performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra. 

In a world-first, Scottish Ballet was given permission to reimagine and redesign Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic original work, shortening the production to two acts and focusing the narrative on Crown Prince Rudolf’s downward spiral. 

Last performed: The Scandal at Mayerling was last performed in spring 2022. For current productions, visit our What’s On page.

Scottish Ballet premiere: 2022

Original Choreographer: Sir Kenneth MacMillan
Developed in association with: Lady Deborah MacMillan
Adapted for Scottish Ballet by: Christopher Hampson & Gary Harris
Staging & Direction: Gary Harris
Original Scenario: Gillian Freeman
Set & Costume Design: Elin Steele
Lighting Design: Paul Pyant
Co-lighting Design: David Howe
Video Design: Hayley Egan
Music: Franz Liszt
Orchestration: Martin Yates


‘Possibly the best production ever by our national company’

Daily Express


‘Sharp, bold and richly memorable’

The Telegraph


‘Disturbing psychosexual tale danced with extraordinary understanding’

The Stage


‘Exudes a potent heat’

The Times


Act I

Scene 1: The ballroom at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna – some years earlier

The Imperial Court celebrates the marriage of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and Princess Stephanie of Belgium. Rudolf flirts shamelessly with Stephanie’s sister, Princess Louise, offending both his new bride and his parents, Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth. Rudolf meets Countess Larisch, his former mistress, and Baroness Vetsera who introduces her daughter Mary Vetsera. Throughout the celebrations, Rudolf is hounded by four Hungarian nationalists to support their separatist cause, which he does conspicuously.

Countess Larisch attempts to reignite her affair with Rudolf before they are discovered by the Emperor, who demands that Rudolf return to his wife. Throughout the evening Rudolf is showing signs of an already deteriorating mental state, damaged by drug and alcohol abuse to numb his pain against the symptoms of suspected syphilis.

Scene 2: Empress Elisabeth’s apartments at the Hofburg Palace

After the ball, Rudolf visits his mother on his way to his new bride. He expresses his deep unhappiness at being pressured into the marriage and is desperate for some understanding and maternal affection. He attempts to embrace her, but being so estranged from him in his upbringing, she is unable to respond with any warmth or tenderness.

Scene 3: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg Palace

Princess Stephanie is preparing for her wedding night. Rudolf enters and shows her a skull and a revolver. His macabre obsession terrifies her. He spends the night tormenting Stephanie, his frenzied attacks ending in him sexually assaulting her.

Act II

Scene 1: A tavern

Rudolf and Stephanie, now trapped in a loveless marriage, enter a tavern accompanied by Rudolf’s driver Bratfisch, who attempts to lighten Stephanie’s spirits. Brothel workers compete for the men’s attention which causes Stephanie to flee in disgust. Rudolf turns his attention to his Hungarian friends and his regular mistress, Mitzi Kaspar. His meeting with the Hungarian nationalists is practically treasonous and the police burst in and arrest several people. As Rudolf’s mood deteriorates, he proposes a suicide pact to Mitzi. Repelled, she leaves and Rudolf escapes with the help of Bratfisch.

Scene 2: Outside the tavern

Countess Larisch, Rudolf’s former mistress, chaperoning Mary Vetsera, presents her to Rudolf as he leaves the tavern.

Scene 3: The Vetsera house

Countess Larisch finds Mary absorbed by a portrait of Rudolf. She tells Mary’s fortune using a pack of cards and informs her that her romantic dreams will come true. Mary gives the Countess a letter to deliver to Rudolf on her behalf.

Scene 4: Rudolf’s apartments at the Hofburg Palace

Rudolf and young Mary meet in private for the first time, sparking the beginning of their passionate and destructive affair.

The Emperor, Franz Josef, having learned of his son’s positive convictions for the Hungarian nationalist cause, fears for the future of the Empire. His son’s political and private instabilities are beginning to have a disastrous effect on the future of the monarchy.

The Empress discovers Countess Larisch and Rudolf alone together and angrily dismisses the Countess, unaware Mary is waiting outside. Mary secretly enters after the Empress has left.

Feeling increasingly abandoned by the crown and unable to see a clear way forward through his deteriorating mental state, Rudolf proposes a suicide pact, to which Mary agrees.

Scene 5: The hunting lodge at Mayerling

Rudolf is drinking with some friends but soon asks them to leave, saying he is unwell. Bratfisch enters with Mary. Rudolf instructs Bratfisch to entertain them both but realising he has lost their attention he leaves Rudolf and Mary alone.

Fuelled by morphine, alcohol, and his worsening mental condition, Rudolf carries out his suicidal pact – shooting Mary and then himself.