By Peter Shaffer
Amadeus, beloved of God.
Mozart, who was baptised Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus, chose the Latin form of his fourth (Greek) Christian name as a pen name, and whether it means lover of God, the love of God, or beloved by God, all of which are possible translations, the title of Peter Schaffer’s play is full of irony.
In the first place, the play is not about Mozart directly, but about his musical rival and elder, Salieri.
Salieri, one of those sad people promoted to a level above their competence, is not just a loser, but has the misfortune to know why he is a loser. All his life he had wanted to be the best composer in the world, in order (or so he convinced himself) to praise God, but in spite of his vows, his pure lifestyle, his dedication and his undoubted love of music, he is denied the genius he longed for.
For along comes young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a scatological, irritating, immature child prodigy, and the only gift Salieri is was given is the recognition that this hateful young man has the genius that Salieri has prayed for all his life, and is indeed beloved of God.
Beloved of God? Yes, for the music that poured almost unbidden from Mozart’s pen is indeed sublime, and Salieri’s tragedy is that he alone recognised it.
But it was not just that Salieri expected God’s logic and sense of justice to be the same as his. He has the added dilemma of choosing between mentoring this young musician who totally outshines him, or trying to destroy his reputation so that the music Mozart produced so effortlessly will be undervalued and possibly allowed to sink unregarded.
Had Salieri been a less ethical person and less of a lover of music, the choice would have been easy – destroy the young upstart and make sure that his work didn’t survive. But Salieri has too much integrity to allow this to happen, so the play that documents the rivalry between the two musicians is given added pathos because of the conflict between Salieri’s objective realisation of the value of Mozart’s music and his hatred of Mozart as an individual.
“Never trust the teller; trust the tale,” said D.H. Lawrence, but it’s always easier to say that at an historical remove. Which of us condemns Byron’s poetry because of his cruel and selfish lifestyle; which of us would say that the world would be better off without Mozart’s music; and (if you want a modern dilemma) should Shane Warne be dismissed from the Australian cricket team because of his objectionable private life?
All of which makes Amadeus a genuine problem play, and after the virtuoso performances of F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce in the 1984 film, it’s a brave theatre company that dares to stage it.
On the whole, though, the Brisbane Arts Theatre has made a creditable stab at it. The success of the play depends on the two main performers, and director Brenda White has chosen wisely in Norman Doyle and James Gauci, for neither of them lets her down.
James Gauci, who is still doing acting studies at QUT, has perhaps been too much influenced by Tom Hulce’s performance in the film – does that giggle really have to be so loud and so irritating? – but his Mozart is annoying enough to bring us up short when we hear the exquisite music he can produce. Benjamin Drozdovskii and Strings Actually provide additional performances to those presumably taken from standard recordings – I say “presumably” because the performances are not credited in the program notes.
The rest of the cast are, at best, acceptable; and, at worst, tolerable; and Brenda White’s clear-headed direction makes sense of the complicated plot and scene changes.
Martin Pedder has made a great effort with the set, which works equally well as a room at court, the married couple’s bedroom and Salieri’s room in the madhouse; and he and Robyn Edwards must be congratulated for the excellent job they’ve done with the costumes.
All in all, then, I’d give this production a very high mark for an amateur effort, and that’s not being patronising, for I’ve seen worse productions of this play from far more highly-funded companies.
And in itself it’s such a good play that it will set you thinking about the motivation and consequences of revenge, and of the danger of making one-sided bargains with the universe, and that’s a good thing in itself.
Directed by Brenda White
Playing until 1 October 2005 – Thursday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday matinees 11 and 25 September at 2pm, extra performance Wednesday 28 September 8pm