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Amadeus is a dark and rhythmic tribute to Mozart’s musical genius

By in Culture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Paul Herrem) and Antonio Salieri (Jacob Yaworski). Click to enlarge.

The man, the myth, the legend — who was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? The newly arrived production of Amadeusmay not provide exact historical accuracy, but it does provide a sizzling spectacle of classic elegance and bloodthirsty rivalry.

This fall, Greystone Theatre is putting on the Peter Shaffer play that delves into the mystery of the genius who changed history. Amadeus is told from the perspective of Viennese court composer Antonio Salieri. It begins in the early 19th century, with Salieri wasting away in his autumn years, his distinguished career long behind him.

Then it flashes back to the 1780s, when he first encounters Mozart, the wild-eyed musical prodigy who storms into Vienna, displaying outlandish humour and unrestrained behaviour. Mozart finds some difficulty trying to make a lasting impression on society and runs afoul of some members of government for his disregard of convention.

Salieri forms an uneasy relationship with him, coloured by bitter jealousy for the younger composer’s talent. He makes it his mission to discredit and disgrace Mozart as a composer, and eventually murders him. (But not really. Well, maybe — it’s a mystery.)

The play unfolds in a dark and rhythmic manner, moving through swells and crescendos similar to a musical composition itself. Sections of the drama convey information through two characters, the Venticelli — Viennese gossip-mongers — who exchange brief snippets of dialogue like gunfire in very rhythmic and percussive scenes. Playwright Peter Shaffer “has such a deep knowledge of rhythm and structure of music,” said director Julia Jamison.

Jamison, an acting and voice instructor within the drama department, has been looking forward to this production for some time. This season, she felt the moment was finally right, and assembled a promising cast.

Amadeus is a weighty and extensive production, with as many as 20 actors onstage at a time. The set is constructed in a grand Baroque style, with varying levels and a piano dominating one corner of the stage. It makes use of multimedia, with projections being used as a significant part of the visuals. But it is also kept open and fluid enough to allow for the dozens of scene changes, when it may swell to a huge crowd scene or retract into an intimate confrontation.

“The play is full of secrets,” says Jamison. Throughout the five-week rehearsal process, the cast and crew have explored new aspects of the multifaceted play and had to overcome the complications of complex character relationships and rapid scene shifts. But Jamison says one thing that brought the production together was the quiet awe they experienced over the music.

“Sound is an essential character,” she said.

The drama is a mix of fact and fiction, but it draws from the historical figures. Mozart’s ribald sense of humour and easy living ruffle the conservative feathers of Salieri, and their protracted rivalry forms the basis of the play’s action. But, as Jamison points out, the real battle is more cosmic — Salieri is angry with God for bestowing musical genius on the undisciplined Mozart rather than himself. The unfolding conflict dives into the disappointment of personal failure, the clash of genius and mediocrity, and the destructive force of scandal and gossip.

Amadeus is a play of rises and falls. It achieves the height of grandiosity on equal measure as it achieves cold, bitter loneliness. It weaves clever humour around disturbing drama. And all the while, it is supported by a sweeping, epic score that encompasses the brief and tragic life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

“It makes us think about all the geniuses right now that we aren’t recognizing,” said Jamison.

Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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