Amadeus at The Paramount
The Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville screened the London National Theater production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus on Thursday, February 2nd. I had the chance during winter break to see this production in person while in London for a J-term course and jumped at the opportunity to see it again. Of the eight wonderful plays I saw on the West End, Amadeus stands out as a particularly spectacular and thought-provoking production.
Lucian Msamati plays the character of Antonio Salieri, a court composer in Vienna who fears his prominence is overshadowed of Mozart’s incredible musical prowess. The play depicts Salieri slowly and deliberately driving Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to destitution and, as Salieri claims, death. He delivers an emotional, heart-wrenching interpretation of Salieri as a man struggling to understand his relationship to Mozart, to music, to mediocrity, and to God. Writer Peter Shaffer, who died in June, personally chose Msamati to play his iconic character.
This production of Amadeus also incorporates elements of modern life into the play’s late 18th century setting. Instead of using pre-recorded music, live musicians in modern dress play their instruments onstage. In the beginning of the play, the musicians use their phones to spread the rumor that Salieri murdered Mozart, enabling a relationship from the current generation to Classical-era Vienna. The choice to include live musicians in the play grounds the production in a sense of realism – the musicians perform live as Mozart conducts, bringing his music to life. They interact with the other characters during the performance, and although they wear modern clothes, they blend seamlessly with the 18th century surroundings and characters.
Modern musicians playing Mozart’s music faithfully emphasizes the main point of tension that Salieri struggles with throughout the play – that although Salieri ruined Mozart’s reputation and drove him to poverty, Mozart’s legacy will live on. His music will be cherished and continually played throughout the ages.
Adam Gillen’s portrayal of Mozart echoes this theme. His interpretation of Mozart starkly contrasts Msamati’s Salieri. Where Salieri is solemn and composed, Mozart is exuberant and inappropriate in a way that feels out of place with the play’s pomp 18th century setting: He mocks other musicians to their faces, makes fart noises, and speaks in childish rhymes.
Throughout the play, the eminent composer wears brightly colored, garish coats, and pastel pink Doc Martins. It’s truly a thing to behold. However, despite Gillen’s at times over-the-top childishness, he delivers a performance of Mozart that transforms during the play from mildly irritating to utterly heartbreaking.
Gillen and Msamati’s characters both spiral into a kind of madness by the end of the play – their opposition contrasts and complements each man’s descent. The play comes to its natural conclusion – the two men grasping desperately at each other, Mozart seeking comfort and Salieri seeking absolution, which neither will get from one another. The orchestration of the beautifully upsetting Lacrimosa signals Mozart’s death, and the haunting conclusion of the play.
We are left in awe and in tears. The actors and musicians breathed life into the story in a way that only theater can. The broadcast at The Paramount was extremely well done, making the viewer feel as if they were truly there watching Lucian Msamati’s masterful performance of Salieri. I urge everyone to watch this play, it is a performance of epic proportion worth experiencing. A second broadcast of Amadeus will be screened at the Paramount on February 25th.
Chris Naulty is a fourth-year who watches plays using binoculars