When the brilliant and tortured Italian composer Antonio Salieri enviously considers Mozart’s final requiem – his masterpiece – the forsaken musician howls to God, “what need to mourn a man who will live forever?”
In this excellent revival of Peter Schaffer’s pathos-sodden 1979 play, Salieri is the studious and distinguished muso whose work has been effortlessly eclipsed by the puerile young Wolfgang. Music comes to Mozart fully formed in the mind, laments poor Salieri; he must simply transcribe it to the sheet. Lucian Msamati plays the beleaguered composer as a man torn in two, the only person in Vienna who truly recognises Mozart’s talent, but at the same time consumed by a faith-rattling sense of injustice. Why has God chosen Mozart to be his voice on earth, when the guy is clearly such an insufferable little turdman?
Adam Gillen plays the mythologised composer as a charmless and infuriating child, bouncing around the stage, spitting out finished operas in weeks and riling up the royals with his witless impertinence. He’s a hateful upstart, and we’re invited to be simultaneously disgusted and in awe of him.
The stage is bustling, evocative of a crowded 19th century Vienna. The 20-strong Southbank Sinfonia orchestra is a constant presence, providing a moving and dynamic score while also playing Salieri’s personal chorus. A physical conduit for his wild emotions, they lurch and bop and pray in time with his words.
In one scene, as the mounting realisation of his rival’s talent becomes a force oppressive enough to bring Salieri to his knees, his temporarily mutinous choir performs Mozart’s music with increasing enthusiasm, creeping towards the audience and growing in volume. As they reach a glorious crescendo Salieri is both crestfallen and enlightened as he claws pathetically at his adversary’s manuscripts on the floor.
Salieri is part historian, part educator, faintly untrustworthy is his retelling of the pair’s intertwined fates, and often comic too. His deadpan humour fuels a rapport with the audience that brings us close to what it must have felt like to be sidelined by a living legend, while there’s an almost Blackadder-esque quality to the supporting cast of foppish dandies.
Amadeus is a stunning piece of music-theatre, powered by two incredible performances in Gillen’s smackable Mozart and Msamati’s divided Salieri. Only one composer may have achieved immortality, but this production brings them both into brilliant harmony.