Amadeus By Peter Schaffer
Directed by Alan Bruun
Starring Philip Nolan, David Knoell, Sara Lockhart
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando, FL
You need two things for a good opera – soaring arias and a tragic death at the end. “Amadeus” provides both in Peter Schaffer’s dramatic if not terribly accurate retelling of Mozart’s (Knoell) life. The narrator is Antonio Salieri (Nolan), Kapellmeister to music loving Joseph the Second, Emperor of Austria (Neil Olcott). Salieri found fame and a career advising the Emperor on music, writing opera and symphonic compositions, and dodging the conservative support staff around the emperor. Mozart appears unexpectedly, fresh from Salzburg and looking for work. Salieri immediately recognizes the danger – Mozart is unconsciously brilliant, while Salieri is more of a skilled drudge. Salieri negotiate with God, and when the deal goes bad (as it so often does with all powerful and uncaring deities in opera) he sets off to destroy the boorish Mozart. The harder Salieri pushes, the more brilliant Mozart’s work becomes, although Mozart can’t seem to monetize his skills. When Mozart is carted off the pauper’s field, Salieri begins to go insane.
We’ll side step the fact that Salieri admired Mozart and even taught his children. After all, operatic plots need to be larger than life. Nolan is larger than life as well he presents the near monolog that introduces the story. His path takes him from a chaste, God fearing man in to the role of a clumsy Machiavelli, and you really feel for him when he breaks down in the final scene. The Venticelli (David Almeida and Chad Gneiting) feed him and the audience all the heavy exposition while they sashay around the stage. Knoell’s Mozart is silly and profane and a drunk and you’re drawn to him by his brilliance and childish charm, yet repelled by his naivety and bad personal habits. The only female on stage is Mrs. Mozart (Sarah Lockard), and she’s a good balance between the Madonna and whore – loyal to her husband and proud of his work but when she get desperate to eat, she offers all she has and then dies inside at Salieri’s last minute rejection.
“Amadeus” plays out in front of a set of rococo frames with a series of arty pencil sketches rear-projected on the center screen. The transition from scene to scene is flawless; you may never notice the transitions as the cast keeps your eyes from wandering the evening through. There’s a bit of musical theory to be gleaned here, but the story is a classic tragedy of hubris fed by a series of small mistakes. Salieri’s flaw was jealousy, Mozart’s naivety, and Vienna’s pride. Emperor Joseph had the resources to gild his empire when an empire was something worth having. He may not have fully appreciated the skills of every artists that crossed his threshold, but the best flocked to his court, and he created one of the great bulwarks of Western art. This might even encourage you to sit through a whole opera, assuming any of them are left in business by next week.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com