Amadeus by UVic Phoenix Theatre March 12-21, 2015. A review.
Modern history has not been kind to Antonio Salieri, a composer and Kappelmeister in the Hapsburg court of Emperor Joseph II. Despite his considerable musical influence in the development of Italian opera of the era, and the fact his students included Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Liszt, his life has been reduced to the portrait painted by Peter Shaffer in Amadeus—one in which a vengeful old man recounts the dubious methods by which he deprived a prodigy of his due. Ironically, this highly fictionalized account—first as a play and later award-winning film—served to revive his musical popularity.
As the play begins, an aged Salieri (Jenson Kerr) is mad—rendered so by the epic battle he waged with God over favour and talent. Addressing the future, and the audience, he muses on the nature of brilliance and mediocrity, of renown and obscurity.
Everything is a-jumble. Creatures shriek, running into corners and tearing at clothes. Set designer Allan Stichbury plays with perspective and angles, creating a boxed and claustrophobic world—initially within the confines of the asylum, and later within a court no less constrained. At times, characters appeared to grow or shrink in size depending on where they were standing onstage—a most disconcerting effect. By confounding our visual perception this device effectively mimics the nature of a diseased mind. Sound design by Brian Linds reinforces the unease with clanks, clangs and creaks as doors slam shut and chains rattle. Light throughout much of Amadeus (Michael Whitfield) is filtered and subdued—befitting the intrigue and politicking of the court. Action happens in the shadows.
It’s not only the inmates in the asylum who are bound—fettered by convention, class, and talent. Salieri becomes all the more dangerous for his unbridled freedom as he casts off the chains of convention and religion, revelling in his disobedience to God. Scheming without end, ably assisted and abetted by his Venticelli (Colin Doig, Haley Garnett, Brett Hay, Chase Hiebert, Amanda Millar, Keshia Palm, Nick Postle, Laura Ramoso, Kapila Rego) Kerr is most persuasive at swaying public opinion, moving from reverent disciple to devious and licentious—unbridled in his desire to thwart Mozart at every turn. I will admit to being firmly on his side despite an early realization of his odious and reprehensible methods.
Aidan Correia’s portrayal of Mozart as a brilliant, spoiled, vulgar and indulged brat is simply marvellous, made all the stronger for the contrast of this stubborn, capricious, wilful man-child with the careful, considered and vengeful Salieri. He initially tumbles onstage with his love interest (later to be wife) Constanze Weber (Samantha Lynch) in a scene that is both ribald and humourous. Lynch moves from unaware young lover to astute and tenacious wife as she negotiates with Salieri for a court position for her husband—the moment is poignant and fraught with danger. Reputation was everything during this time, and yet her devotion to Mozart is such she is willing to abandon it all.
The court officials and musicians are played with flair—deliberate Freemason Van Swieten (Jack Hayes), pompous Von Strack (Tyler Fowler) and effusive Orsini-Rosenburg (Francis Melling). Markus Spoodzieja as Emperor Joseph II is a man completely out of his depth in matters of culture as he spouts bon-mots, yet perfectly capable of imposing his will when it suits him.
Costumes designer Pauline Stynes focuses attention on Salieri by clothing him in rich and finely finished velvets. Katherina Cavalieri (Haley Garnett) is a brightly-plumed and exotic song bird resplendent in brilliant jewel-tones. Mozart’s cut-away coats are boldly patterned while garments of the asylum inmates make use of a monochromatic colour palette.
Salieri (right: Jenson Kerr) recollects the performance of the young virtuoso soprano, Katherina Cavalieri (left: Haley Garnett), singing Mozart’s (Aidan Correia) new work before the Emperor (Markus Spodzieja) and guests. Photo: David Lowes.
Director Chari Arespacachoga does not shirk from difficult questions; her Amadeus is a bold and ambitious undertaking which brings essential reflections on the nature of talent, ambition and legacy to the forefront. Under her inspired direction the students of the University of Victoria theatre department have once again delivered superior theatre to the stage, ending the year with a production that is as complex as the men it immortalizes.
Amadeus by Peter Shaffer
March 12 – 21, 2015
University of Victoria Phoenix Theatre
Tickets: Adult: $24 Senior: $20 Student: $14
Weekend Evenings: $24
(All seats on Friday and Saturday evenings)
UVic Alumni: Pay student prices when you attend on Saturday matinee
Director Chari Arespacochaga
Set Designer Allan Stichbury
Costume Designer Pauline Stynes
Lighting Designer Michael Whitfield
Sound Designer Brian Linds
Stage Manager Jaymee Sidel
Movement Consultant Jacques Lemay
Assistant Set & Projection Designer Noreen Sajolan
Assistant Costume Designer Rachel Millar
Assistant Sound Designer Francis Recalma
Featuring (in alphabetical order):
Aidan Correia Mozart
Colin Doig Venticelli, Valet
Tyler Fowler Von Strack
Haley Garnett Venticelli, Katherina Cavalieri
Brett Hay Venticelli
Jack Hayes Van Swieten
Chase Hiebert Venticelli
Jenson Kerr Salieri
Samantha Lynch Constanze
Francis Melling Orsini-Rosenburg
Amanda Millar Venticelli, Cook
Keshia Palm Venticelli, Teresa Salieri
Nick Postle Venticelli, Kappelmeister Bonno
Laura Ramoso Venticelli
Kapila Rego Venticelli
Markus Spodzieja Emperor Joseph
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is often considered the greatest musical genius the world has ever known. To his 18th-century contemporary, Antonio Salieri, he was vulgar, boorish, and unforgivably brilliant – thus an enemy to be eliminated. Seen through the envious eyes and maybe-skewed memory of the aging Salieri, the play chronicles their tumultuous rivalry, and Salieri’s devious efforts to destroy Mozart’s career, even while recognizing the genius of his music. But is this final confession Salieri’s last attempt to escape his own insignificant artistic legacy? The winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Play, Shaffer’s masterpiece also inspired the much-loved Academy Award-winning movie.
Disclaimer: I was graciously provided with complimentary tickets to the opening night of Amadeus.