High Praise and Glorious Notes

“High Praise and Glorious Notes”

A Review of the Play “Amadeus” at Camelot Theatre, Talent, Oregon through February 24, 2013

Let me open by saying I absolutely adore this play!  The script is complex and clever and Camelot’s crew simply captivates the audience in this production of Amadeus.  Having to compete with the movie, which was adapted for film by its award-winning playwright Peter Shaffer, must have been challenging. But Camelot Director Livia Genise’s masterful staging gives us a more intricate view than the movie, with less music but more mystery, mores, morals and motive.

Right away, we are up close and personal with our “host”, Composer Antonio Salieri, whose narration and re-enactments of his competitive, jealous relationship with his younger, more gifted counterpart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, carries the storyline beautifully. Kudos to Set Designer Paul R. Flowers, Sound and Video Designer Brian O’Connor, Choreographer & Movement Advisor Daniel Stephens, Costumer Coordinator Tina Skaletsky  and all others who provide a backdrop for these acts. The set, projected images, and attention to detail give us plenty of mood and recreate the effete affectations needed to describe the Court at Schoenbrun Palace in Vienna, between 1781 – 1791 and again during Salieri’s “end days” in November 1823.

The first scene opens with the aged Composer Salieri’s “Venticellis” – Italian for Little Winds – who spread the gossip among the elite in Vienna, The City of Scandal.  These two tuxedoed, rotund and mincing “men” serve as a chorus throughout the play. As Venticellis,  Ryan Primm and Brian O’Connor inform us with comic mock discretion of the fresh and nasty rumors circulating, thereby increasing our intimacy and an almost guilty identity with the devilish, misguided Salieri, played by Paul R. Jones  flawlessly and with incredible agility, flair and wit. (Primm also doubles as Teresa, Salieri’s wife, chosen for his bride, Salieri explains, because of her total lack of affect.  The device of D.R.A.G. is used well in the play, adding to the ambiguity with “dressed as a Girl” or D.R.A.B.? (dressed as a boy) and adds other  visual and subliminal dimensions.)

It is a true gift that the playwright provided such a deep, juicy script and a credit to all the actors whose delivery of dialogue is literarily heaven sent.  The interior monologues, and conspiratorial tone of Salairi’s shared confidences with the audience pulls us in immediately as he screams out from his wheelchair  “Mozart!. . . .  Have Mercy!  Pardon Your Assassin!” as the Venticellis whisper “Did he Do It After All?”

This outburst brings Salieri’s valet (played by David Eisenberg) and cook (played by Tim Kelly) running to serve him, as they have for the past 50 years in his employ.  He dismisses them and explains to the audience that this is the last night of his life.  Speaking directly to the audience, Salieri then invokes  the Gods of Opera to conjure us, Ghosts of the Distant Future, to witness his story of the sins, lies, plots and contrivances he perpetrated in order to destroy his musical rival, the young Wolfgage Amadeus Mozart.  Max Gutfreund brings us a Mozart we can love and agonize over in a comedic/tragic way.  He is impressive, impetuous and aggravating in turn, and it’s fascinating to see how in this sad tale his boyishness and buoyancy offer contrast to Salieri’s somber conceits yet provide confirmation that the follies of men take many forms but are often, in the end, their own self-created undoing.

From here we are led on quite a caper, filled with confessions of gluttony and worse. Infidelities and seductions by both Mozart-, using his silly, childlike charms and alcohol-lubricated antics, and Salieri, out of revenge and using his favorite sweetmeats called “Nipples of Venus”. Salieri ensnares both Mozart’s wife(played to perfection by Grace Peets), and “my darling girl” (Salieri’s student Katherina Cavalieri, played by the talented singer BriAnna Johnson, whose been previously debauched by naughty  Amadeus.)

Along the way we meet Joseph II, Emperor of Austria played with elegance and humor by Jack Seybold, and three cronies of the Court and fellow composer friends of Salieri – Baron Gottfried van Swieten (David Dials), Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg (Buzz London) and Count Johann Kilian von Strack (Ric Hagerman). This trio delivers scathing and back-biting commentary on the state of Opera and the battle for supremacy in that Venetian arena between the German and Italian composers.  They serve as a sounding board for Saliari’s spiteful and secret plots against Mozart, and constantly add fuel to this smoldering fire.

Ultimately, however, Salieri’s grievance is with God, who has bi-passed Salieri and bestowed his most coveted and holy gifts upon Mozart. In this unhinged state Salieri systematically dismantles every possible opportunity left for Amadeus to make a living, and with snakelike cunning and intentional bad advice, Salieri manages to disconnect Mozart from his doting, overbearing  father and other sources of sustenance and support, or so the aged Salieri would like the audience to believe! In this he has lots of help from Mozart’s own bad judgment, his innocence and self-indulgence and we are held in doubt as to what really transpired.

The role of the father figure, embodied like a Greek myth within the story, repeats throughout the play. The question of whether genius does in fact settle where it will, gifting itself to unlikely innocents who appear to The Great Mediocrity as either undeserving or insane or both is visited with scintillating discourse by the characters of the Court and Salieri’s conversations with God and the audience. Salieri appeals to our future judgment and grapples with his fame or lack thereof and how history may remember him as a weak note in the massive and perpetually loved scores of Mozart.  In this present time the bottom line of taste comes from Emperor Joseph, who can embrace a musical composition or reject it for the flaw of “too many notes”. In a similar regal way he brooches any dissent, discourse or debate on any topic by simply dismissed it with a terse “And there you have it”.  But for perpetuity Saliari recognizes God’s Infinite Jest and realizes how he has lived to suffer the worst imagined punishment: the fading of any trace of recognition of his music within his lifetime.  To Salieri’s credit he is one of a tiny contingent who recognizes Mozart’s genius in his own time, and rails against the ever-present condition wherein the Mediocre Worship at the Trough of Banality while Genius goes Wanting.

How this all transpires is a rowdy jaunt with plenty of arch observations about the sacred versus the profane, transcendence and servitude, attachment and personality disorders, bad habits, the two-edged sword of intense creativity, the thinking errors and prisons of conformity, culture and rigid mindsets, as well as the soul-bending process of seeking worldly fame, or of misusing God’s gifts.

True artists can be driven mad by society and by the way their own minds work.  Because they are not geared to deal with the cynicism and grind of the everyday, artists transform obstacles into myths and better stories.  This ability to transform and transcend chaos, along with their personal tragedies and inability to fit in, can bring insights and reason back to society and, at times, can touch the divine.  Transcending circumstance through strength of imagination, without the usual practical tools to navigate the bitter real world, Mozart is driven to mastery of his art, transcendence, poverty and death, while Salieri must endure a long ride through old age in his handmade conveyance through shame, obscurity, doubt and spiritual bankruptcy.

The word Cativo is used as a fashionable buzz word of this 18th century portrayal of Vienna and it best translates as Captive.  It’s a perfect motif for every person in the play and in the audience to contemplate:  We are all Cativo to the human condition and we don’t get out of here alive.  Only art is immortal, and only time will tell.

I don’t usually mention the names of cast and crew in my reviews, but the performances were so exceptional I feel compelled.  High praise to Dramaturg Mark Roper who brings a Shakespearean grandness to the language, plot twists and character development.  Special appreciation to Monica Rountree for her handling of the Italian translations.  And most heartfelt thanks to Livia Genise, Camelot’s Board, donors and staff for bringing us this intelligent and entertaining play in a beautiful and comfortable new venue.  Don’t miss it!

Catie Faryl,  February 8, 2013