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AMADEUS Olivier, SE1

ONE OF THE GREAT NIGHTS
The old man’s eye is unforgiving, his squat wrecked strength of will cows the vast room as he invokes us – “ghosts of the future” – to hear his confession. “You must understand me. Not forgive: understand”.  Antonio Salieri, opening and closing a stormy three hour memory-play, must persuade posterity that he killed the upstart genius Mozart, and thus share a twisted immortality. The decade’s destruction of his soul is brought before us by Lucian Msamati in the performance of a lifetime (even for him). He evokes all the great  immortal yearnings that his rival’s music brings, all the rage of virtuous mediocrity unrewarded, all the agony having your soul moved by the God-given, effortless talent of “an obscene child!” who is the great artist. Msamati  seethes, struts, writhes and falls like Satan himself, never loosening his grip on the pain . Or on us.

 
Set against his enraged solidity is the skipping preposterous figure of Mozart himself: the slight, exuberantly silly prodigy kept childish and dependent by his father:  the frolicking, foul-mouthed pest who –  without laying down his billiard cue or his latest mistress  – can conjure miracles of grace and spirituality, holding whole operas complete in his head to scribble on hands-and-knees on top of the nearest fortepiano. It is a famously daunting part, because he must be both appalling enough to repel us a bit yet – in the final decline Salieri manages for him – aware like a desperate child of the greatness and eternity of his gift. Adam Gillen goes at it with unsettling energy: think Fotherington-Thomas on benzedrine doing a Kenny Everett impression with a bad dose of Tourettes. In the second half her draws out with particular finesse the vulnerabilityo of the man-child; his final scene with Salieri is almost unbearably painful, as the great Requiem throbs around us.

 

 

It was time Rufus Norris’ tenure at the national saw one of those landmark, memorable five.star opening nights: two thirds of the audience on their feet calling back a huge ensemble (its never all, NT regulars tend to think standing ovations are common).  Now we have that great moment. Peter Shaffer’s extraordinary imagining about great art and great envy in the 18c Austrian court has its first revival to be staged its original home, and under director Michael Longhurst, designer Chloe Lamford and (not least)  Imogen Knight’s movement direction,  the play gets everything it needs for perfection and awe.  It is stupendous. Some revivals skimp on the moments of music, for few can afford an onstage orchestra and singers , and if you do it is hard to use them in abruptly cut-off fragments which serve Salieri’s furious, overwhelmed glances at sheet music; or to create great swelling chorales and full-dress chunks of opera. almost as asides.

 
But here, on the Olivier’s vast stage, we have it all. And each of the envious Kapellmeister’s pained, jealous descriptions of a high lone oboe or a cascade of crunching harmonies is there, before us, live, astonishing still.  The Southbank sinfonia clamber, reform, sink into a pit or, in one terrifying moment, on a stepped platform slide triumphantly downstage  towards the sobbing, retching Salieri, their celestial harmonies and glowing brass and varnish nearly running him off the edge. The soloists – especially Fleur de Bray – are marvels, the chorales stirring, the moments of ornate 18c absurdity and carnival make your eyes pop. And the orchestra becomes a Greek chorus at times, emitting alarming musical pulses and discords or moving in their black suits like a threatening sea.

 
Nothing jars, except that the whole theme is jarring: asking questions of all who try to create and know far they -we – fall short. Tom Edden is very funny as the crisp philistine Emperor Joseph II, as are Geoffrey Beevers, Alexandra Mathie and Hugh Sachs as his courtiers; Karla Crome earthily touching and real as Mozart’s longsuffering wife, particularly fine in the seduction scene. It’s wonderful. That the author died this year before he could see this production is painful to think.

 

 

box office box office 020 7452 3333 http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
On screens nationwide 2 February 2017
Sponsor: Travelex, 14th season!
Rating: five  5 Meece Rating

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AMADEUS Chichester Festival Theatre

DIVINITY AND DEADLY HATRED

 

 

One day someone will put Milton’s Paradise Lost on stage and cast Rupert Everett as Satan, the bitter archangel. For now he is Peter Shaffer’s Salieri: court composer to Emperor Joseph of Austria. Here is a functionary ploddingly competent in his task of “ceremonializing the mediocrity” of a stultifying court, but who has dreamed childhood that he would write something transcendent and“blaze like a comet across Europe” to the glory of heaven. He made a bargain at sixteen with the deity of the frescoes in his native Italy: not the soppy compassionate long-haired Christs but the “old, candlesmoked God the Father.” He swore to do good works and be chaste in return for that divine gift.

 

God threw it back at him. Exalted music did spring in that 18th century court: a miracle of “crushed harmonies, glancing collisions, agonizing delights: an absolute beauty”. But it was not Salieri who wrote it but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: a childish, obscenely foul-mouthed, capering sensualist with a high infuriating giggle who “without even setting down his billiard cue” is somehow visited with music perfect, complete, and immortal. With still bitterer irony, it is Salieri himself who is first doomed to recognize its greatness while the court dullards say “too many notes”. Enraged at the unfairness like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother, he sabotages and undermines the ebullient young man’s career and bring him to an early death.

 

The brilliance of Shaffer’s play, immaculately served by Jonathan Church’s cast, is not particularly in the plot – which is linear, a downhill slope – or even in the powerful raging jealousy of its antihero. It lies in the identification of a particular and individual agony: a man with deep belief in the transcendent and a gift of rare artistic perception who cannot rejoice in the art of another because it is not his own. Everett – tall, gaunt, hot-eyed, quivering with fastidious distaste for the clownish romping Mozart – expresses that “agonizing delight” in his finest stage performance to date. On the night I saw him he seemed to be fighting vocal problems, but in a performance this finely judged moments of hoarseness actually added to that terrible sense of discord, a croaking envy. Fits the play’s time-frame too: for this is an old, wispily grey man telling us his story. In unfussy transformations – a swift dark wig and a straightening back – rhe re-enacts the time 32 years before when his hatred flowered.

 

The play, though, does not all stand or fall only with this towering portrait. Joshua McGuire’s Mozart – a head shorter than the black-coated, pallid, square-browed Everett – is perfect; a rounded, rosy-lipped romping sensualist, irritating and shrill, flawed and human conduit for divine music (which Church uses judiciously, without the overkill which marred the film). In his last moments McGuire achieves profound pathos, as does Jessie Buckley as his wife Constanza: a little common, earthily sensible, defiantly devoted. All three performances shine; around them a perfectly judged court swirls and hisses, Simon Janes particularly funny as the philistine Emperor.

 

It is, altogether, a beautiful start for the recreated Festival theatre: Simon Higlett’s open design expresses with palatial simplicity both Mozart’s glittering splendour and Salieri’s imprisoning darkness: six glittering chandeliers rise and fall before tall dim windows, and the opening moment is a thing of masked, hissing figures: “Ssss…sssalieri…asssasssin…” around the bitter old man’s hooded chair. When Everett rises and conjures up the witnesses of history – us, curving around him in the great arena – the house lights go up . And we are, in the timeless theatrical miracle, involved.

 

box office cft.org.uk 01243 781312 to 2 August
Sponsored by Harwoods Group and Oldham Seals Group
Rating : four    4 Meece Rating

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