Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Amadeus

Albuquerque Little Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carla's review of Harvey


Mario Cabrera and Abby van Gerpen
Photo by Jason Ponic
No matter how highly esteemed some composers may be during their lifetimes, if they don't come up with memorable melodies, their fate is to be forgotten. There are a few exceptions, of course, and sometimes it takes only one memorable piece to prevent a composer from slipping into oblivion (Pachelbel and Albinoni, for example, are still with us). Antonio Salieri, even though he wrote tons of music including 37 operas, apparently never wrote a single thing that anyone can remember. He surely would be totally forgotten today were it not for Alexander Pushkin and Peter Shaffer—and Mozart.

Salieri and Mozart were both living and composing in Vienna during the 1780s. Were they friends or rivals, or both? Some time after Mozart died of a mysterious illness in 1791 at age 35, rumors started circulating that Salieri had poisoned him. There is no evidence of this, but rumors often persist longer than facts do, and they make a better story. After Salieri died in 1825 at age 74, Pushkin wrote a short play called Mozart and Salieri, depicting a Salieri so envious of Mozart's talent that he could very well have done it. I don't know how well known this play was outside of Russia, but everything that Pushkin wrote is revered by the Russians, and Rimsky-Korsakov turned it into a one-act opera, so it has not been forgotten.

Pushkin's take on the Salieri-Mozart rivalry probably was the basis for Peter Shaffer's 1979 hit Amadeus, which went on to become one of the most highly praised films of the 1980s. So many people have seen the movie that I don't think it necessary to recap the plot. You don't need to know much about Mozart in order to enjoy the play, but the more familiar you are with his music, the more you will get out of it. When Mozart improvises on an insipid little march that Salieri has written, he on the spot comes up with the melody to "Non piĆ¹ andrai" from The Marriage of Figaro. When you hear the name Schikaneder, you know that he and Mozart are going to write The Magic Flute, which is currently the second most frequently performed opera worldwide. And so on. One side-effect of Shaffer's depiction of Mozart is that most of us now think of him as a randy overgrown adolescent, which is probably a libel on his actual behavior but makes for good theater.

The stage play is essentially one long confessional monologue by an aged Salieri to the audience, with scenes from his younger days fleshed out with several other characters participating in his reminiscences, principal among them being Mozart and his wife Constanze. The play requires that the actor playing Salieri never leave the stage. It requires a tour de force performance, operatic in scope, and Mario Cabrera is brilliant in the role in this Albuquerque Little Theatre production. His rich voice fills the theater, unamplified, and although the play drags a bit at times, his energy never flags. I can hardly believe he has the stamina to give such a performance three or four days in a row, and, on one occasion, twice in one day. He shows you what a professional actor is capable of. It's a performance not to be missed.

The rest of the cast does a good job, but it's really Cabrera's show. Nicholas Laemmer plays Mozart as the lovable goofball we've come to expect, but as the play progresses, he shows some deeper emotions and becomes a very affecting character. Abby van Gerpen is a fine Constanze, but the high-pitched voice she sometimes uses makes the character sound ditzier than necessary. Additional good work is contributed by David Nava, Tim Crofton, Ed Chavez, and Dehron Foster in smaller roles.

There are at least 15 actors on the stage who have almost no lines, but they do get to wear exceptional wigs and costumes, designed by Joe Moncada with Carmella Lauer, Emma Ziegler, and Dinah Polhemus. The excellent set was designed by Henry Avery and painted and decorated by Dean Squibb. The lighting by Joseph A. Wasson Jr. with help from Xazziel Martinez is very effective. Amy Mershawn must be awfully busy as the stage manager, dealing with a cast of 26. The use of Mozart's music during the play is well-coordinated with the action (sound design by Lando Ruiz), but why not play some Mozart also before the play starts and during intermission?

Henry Avery directs this big show, and his long experience in theater is amply displayed on the Albuquerque Little Theatre stage. He has assembled a fine group of actors, and is especially fortunate to be able to cast Mario Cabrera as Salieri. Even if you've seen the movie, don't miss seeing this live production.

Amadeus, through September 8, 2019, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00, with additional shows on Saturday August 31 at 2:00 and Thursday September 5 at 7:30. For tickets and information, visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750.


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