Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 27, 2022 – Jan 21, 2023
Playwright: Peter Schaffer
Director: Craig Ilott
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Katherine Allen, Lily Balatincz, Blazey Best, Michael Denkha, Gabriel Fancourt, Belinda Giblin, Glenn Hazeldine, ‘Ana Ika, Michaela Leisk, Daniel Macey, Arky Michael, Sean O’Shea, Joshua Oxley, Josh Quong Tart, Rahel Romahn, Laura Scandizzo, Toby Schmitz, Michael Sheen, Daniel Verschuer
Images by Daniel Boud
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was barely 36 when he died an impoverished man in 1791. The influential Antonio Salieri was at the time, director of the Italian opera in Vienna, and although he understood the genius of Mozart’s work, did little to improve the rival composer’s circumstances. In Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, it is suggested that Salieri may even have been responsible for the poisoning and subsequent death of Mozart. The 1979 play explores the human experience of envy, as it relates to art and status, demonstrating the extent to which it can lead a person to destruction.
Almost half a century hence, Craig Ilott’s direction of the piece is memorable for its extravagant incorporation of live music (performed by The Metropolitan Orchestra), which delivers for the production an unmistakeable transcendence, such is the power of Mozart. Also highly impressive are costumes by Romance Was Born and Anna Cordingley, providing remarkable flourish and extraordinary exuberance, against a restrained black stage. Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, the set feels appropriately grand, with clever placement of stairs that facilitate many visually satisfying configurations of performers and their kaleidoscopic attire. Lights by Nick Schlieper offer a touch of sophistication, helping us pay attention to the real drama unfolding, in the middle of a lot of hullabaloo.
Actor Michael Sheen is full of mighty vigour, as the hateful Salieri, unrelenting in his assertions of passion and energy, for a story that urges meaningful introspection. More textured in approach is Rahel Romahn, whose Mozart proves endearing and exigently sympathetic. Both Sheen and Romahn bring great nuance and vulnerability to their roles, albeit in wildly contrasting styles. The wonderfully whimsical duo of Belinda Giblin and Josh Quong Tart, are notable as a pair of characters known as Venticelli, representing a more objective perspective in this controversially revisionist take on Mozart’s demise.
Salieri and Mozart wax lyrical about God, acknowledging the presence of divinity in artistic pursuits, but also attributing many of their very human decisions to their Christian deity. If Salieri did inflict harm on Mozart, we can infer that much of it was bolstered by religious faith, as observed in his perverse belief that God does answer his dangerously narcissistic prayers. It is perhaps true that art, especially when sublime and beautiful, comes from an otherworldly realm, but it is plain to see, that there is nothing at all celestial, in all the damage that people impose.