Jealousy, arrogance, manic genius and ambition are just a few of the emotions that are flung at the audience and across the 18th century Viennese court/stage in “Amadeus.” Like all of USF’s plays this season, “Amadeus” has a dramatic opening scene. Vicious whispers are chanting a name as the gossip flies through Vienna, Austria – Court Composer, Antonio Salieri (David Ivers, co-artistic director of USF) has a confession to make in regards to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death 32 years before and the whole city is tipsy on the gossip as they chant “Salieri, Salieri.”
“Amadeus” is less about Mozart and more about the conspiracy that perhaps Mozart was killed by composer and musical rival Antonio Salieri. From a young age, Salieri was desperate to become a famous composer and in his mind he had made a deal with God. He wanted musical talent and fame and in exchange he would dedicate his work to God. “I wanted fame. I wanted to blaze like a comet across the firmament of Europe,” Salieri confesses.
For a time it seems as if his prayer has been answered, Salieri rises to a powerful position in Europe as the court composer under Emperor Joseph II (John Pribyl). Yet, when he hears the music of Mozart at a salon gathering right after being an unknown witness to Mozart’s immature, silly and depraved encounter with Mozart’s fiance, Constanze (Betsy Mugavero), he starts to believe God has betrayed him. He recognizes immediately the superiority of Amadeus’s (or as he calls him “the creature”) work and his envy begins to eat away at him.
Ivers dominates the stage as Salieri both as the elder composer on the eve of his attempted suicide and as the younger conniving Salieri. Without Ivers’ superb performance, this play could have easily lapsed into downright boring. But it is hard not to be drawn to the magnetism that is Ivers in this role.
Tasso Feldman also did a good job of conveying Shaffer’s version of Amadeus – even if Shaffer seemed dead set on writing a shallow, arrogant genius into this role. Feldman almost made me believe that Amadeus really may have been that inappropriate and childlike during the times he was not composing.
Mugavero’s Constanze showed the greatest depth in her character as she transformed from a silly, young, wealthy bride to a poverty stricken wife and mother.
Something must be said of the artistic elements of this play. They were truly stunning. Scenic designer Jack Magaw and costume designer David Kay Mickelsen created a visual feast for the eyes. The set changed very little throughout the play and yet the beauty of the scenic elements, lighting (Kirk Bookman) and costume design created a true sense of Vienna, Austria in the late 18th century.
This play is a conundrum for me. At moments I felt intrigued and moved by the story line and characters but I also felt emotionally worn out when it was over. “Amadeus” is a look at the destruction caused by obsession, greed and arrogance. My constant theatre companion found little to love besides the acting itself.
And so, I am torn. Was it one of the best plays I have ever seen or one of the most hopeless plot lines I have ever watched? I will let you, fellow theatre-goer, decide for yourself. “Amadeus” plays through Sept. 5, 2015 in the Randall L. Jones Theatre.
On a side note, this play contains language, sexual conversations and innuendo and a suicide scene.