Amadeus by Peter Shaffer.
Designed and directed by Cate Clelland. Music by Christine Faron. Lighting design. Nathan Sciberras Sound Design Neville Pye. Costumes by Deborah Huff-Horwood. Brenton Warren Properties. Assistant Directors Ian Hart and Rosemary Gibbons. Set Construction Coordinator Russell Brown OAM. Costume Coordinator Jeanette Brown OAM. Stage Manager Ewan. Canberra Repertory Society. July 27 – August 12 2023 Bookings 6257 1950
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Director Cate Clelland has staged a highly commendable production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus at Canberra Rep. Shaffer ingeniously combines historical fact and fiction to imagine the relationship between 18th Century court composer to Austrian Emperor Joseph ll, Antonio Salieri and musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The aging Salieri, obsessed with jealousy and envy of the rising musical star, enters into a Faustian pact to live a life of virtue devoted to his God if he will provide divine intervention to destroy Mozart’s career and the favour he enjoys at court. Shaffer employs two society gossips Venticello 1 and Venticello 2 , played with delightful tittle tattle by Justice-Noah Malfitano and Michael J. Smith. to entertain the audience with historical fact, rumour and innuendo. Salieri (Jim Adamik) obsessed with envy narrates his own tormenting preoccupation with the genius of the young Mozart (Jack Shanahan). Overcome by Mozart’s divine genius, Salieri conspires to discredit and destroy Mozart’s career with poisoned malice, feigned friendship and malicious accusation before Joseph ll (Neil Macleod), the emperor’s esteemed courtier’s Count Johann Killian von Strack (David Bennett), Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg (Tony Falla) and Baron Gottfried van Swieten (Ian Russell).
Shaffer has written a homily of bitter irony. Accused of poisoning Mozart in order to achieve success, Salieri in the final scene must face his own destruction The cancerous resentment has devoured the virtue he promised his God and his confession offers no reprieve from ignominy and future anonymity. Shaffer’s play is so wittily written, so convincing in its drama and so riveting in its hypothesis that it is easy for an audience to be intrigued and convinced that Mozart’s death was the direct consequence of Salieri’s jealousy and evil Machiavellian manipulation. Shaffer is a superb storyteller and Clelland’s production has capitalized wonderfully on his theatrical flair. But history is a chronicle of different truths, and Salieri’s talent and influence as court composer and teacher remains acknowledged in the works of such composers as Beethoven, Lizt, and Shubert. But then not even Shaffer, as fine a dramatist as he is is likely to let the truth get completely in the way of this story or Clelland’s inventive and imaginative production.
In staging Shaffer’s historical fiction, Clelland is fortunate to be supported by an excellent team. Clelland’s open stage set design has allowed her to take full advantage of the freedom to keep the action flowing . 18th century specialist in keyboard music, Christine Faron has magically recorded Mozart and Salieri’s composition on fortepiano lending authenticity to the period and the music.. Deborah Huff-Horwood continues this attention to period in her costume designs which also observe the court dress as well as the costuming of the ordinary Viennese citizens. Sound designer Neville Pye and Lighting designer Nathan Sciberras provide the necessary mood and atmosphere, capturing the play’s moments of light comedy and Mozart’s dark descent at the hands of a scheming Salieri.
The play hangs on the performances of Salieri and Mozart and Clelland’s casting of these roles is inspired. Adamik, renowned for his comic roles in past productions has proven to be an actor of enormous dramatic stature. His Salieri. on stage throughout the production, is mesmerising from private confession to fawning ingratiation and demoniacal deviousness. It is a tour de force performance matched only by Shanahan’s mercurial Mozart, a sniggering infantile youth , supremely conceited and yet divinely gifted. Shanahan’s descent from confident genius to the pit of despair is brilliantly captured in a performance that evokes both pity and empathy. They are well supported by a fine cast but deserving of special mention are Sienna Curnow in the impishly sexy and long suffering role of Mozart’s wife Constanze Weber. It is an especially difficult part and Curnow convincingly captures the early coquettishness and later desperation. There is also a finely tuned comic performance from Neil McLeod as the doddery emperor with a grip still on his God given authority.
Amadeus runs for three hours including an interval and the second act would not suffer from some editing, but having said that, this is a very fine production of Shaffer’s intriguing debate on one’s relationship with one’s God and the cost of human frailty. Highly commended.