Also see Bill's review of The Breakup Breakdown
Such an intellectually captivating premise is at the core of Peter Shaffer's 1979 costume drama, Amadeus. And it is brought to life with both wit and vivacity in the Old Globe's Shakespeare Festival production running through September 22.
Antonio Salieri (Miles Anderson) served as court composer to Emperor Joseph II of Austria (Donald Carrier) and as such was familiar with court politics. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Jay Whittaker) arrived from Salzburg, seeking both employment and escape from his overbearing father, Salieri immediately recognized Mozart's talent, but also his naiveté. He proceeded to kill his rival with kindness. Mozart, who was a prodigy musically, was nevertheless an adolescent emotionally, and he continued to regard Salieri as having his best interests at heart, even when evidence to the contrary was fairly strong. Salieri, for his part, continued to insure that Mozart fell into greater and greater poverty at the same time that Salieri gained increasing prestige and wealth at court.
Mozart, for his part, was not helped by a propensity to be pushing the compositional envelop ("Too many notes," the Emperor would complain) and creating works that were out of style, such as The Marriage of Figaro, a comic opera in Italian based on a French farce completed at a time when the Hapsburg court considered Italian to be the language of serious opera topics and French farces to be gauche and overly critical of the aristocracy. Mr. Shaffer also portrays Mozart as egotistical, foul-mouthed, and lacking in social graces. As his poverty wore heavily on him, Mozart became increasingly ill as he continued to compose as if possessed. His eventual death left Salieri not only the musical emperor of Vienna but a man wracked with guilt over having caused the death of a genius whose works would surely outlast his own.
Mr. Shaffer created Salieri as a kind of stealth King Richard III, oozing with charm even as he massacres his prey to assure his position. Mr. Anderson, however, doesn't ooze; he's more controlled and subtle than that, almost standoffish until later in the play. His performance, however, allows Mr. Whittaker space to play Mozart with much greater thought and humanity than envisioned by the playwright. The rivals are more evenly matched than one might expect, and Mr. Shaffer's psycho-social dissection of each of them loses its existential silliness as a result.
Director Adrian Noble keeps the play careening through is nearly three-hour length. He maintains the focus on his two main characters by playing much of the action close to the audience, bringing on people and props from underneath via a center-stage trap, and using a false theatre curtain (courtesy of scenic designer Ralph Funicello) not only for fluidity of scene changes but also to reveal ordinary Viennese and members of the court reacting to the proceedings. Deirdre Clancy designed elegant period costumes, which, in Mr. Anderson's case, allow him to switch between the dying Salieri and his younger self with a quick onstage change of coat and hat. Mr. Noble also polished the performances of his supporting cast to a beauty that matches that of the costumes.
As a play, Amadeus may have "too many words," as my companion at the opening jokingly remarked, but in the hands of this cast those words create as much delight as an excellent performance of Mozart's music.
The Old Globe presents Amadeus in repertory through September 25 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, on the Old Globe campus, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $64) may be purchased by phoning (619) 23-GLOBE or by visiting the Old Globe website.
Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer. Directed by Adrian Noble with Ralph Funicello (Scenic Design), Deirdre Clancy (Costume Design), Alan Burrett (Lighting Design), David Bullard (Sound Design), Charlie Reuter (Music Direction), Steve Rankin (Fight Director), Jan Gist (Dialect Coach) and Bret Torbeck (Stage Manager).
Cast: Michael Stewart Allen (Baron van Swieten), Miles Anderson (Antonio Salieri), Shirine Babb (Teresa Salieri), Donald Carrier (Joseph II, Emperor of Austria), Anthony Cochrane (Count Orsini-Rosenberg), Winslow Corbett (Constanze Weber), Adam Daveline (Salieri's Cook), Christian Durso (A Majordomo), Georgia Hatzis (Venticella), Andrew Hutcheson (Salieri's Valet), Charles Janasz (Count von Strack), Allison Spratt Pearce (Katherina Cavalieri), Ryman Sneed (Venticella), Jonathan Spivey (Kapellmeister Bonno) and Jay Whittaker (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) with Grayson DeJesus, Ben Diskant, Rachael Jenison, Jesse Jensen, Jason Maddy and Deborah Radloff (Ensemble).
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