The story and characters are the same: Composer Antonio Salieri is deeply envious of his contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s genius for composition. Yet this production of “Amadeus,” a Theater Studies senior project in directing for Irina Gavrilova ’17 and movement design for Alex Cadena ’17, feels more powerful than past adaptations of Peter Shaffer’s play. The unique use of movement and stage space lends itself to a powerful retelling of the narrative.
The action of the play, which begins after an intense and climactic overture by the orchestra, starts with Salieri — played by Rora Brodwin ’18, speaking to the audience. Sitting in a wheelchair, he narrates as an old man, reflecting on his life. Salieri emphasizes that music is the only thing that is always remembered. Music is God’s art, he proclaims.
Salieri continues his speech, questioning the belief that composers are merely servants to the wealthy and royal. “Are we servants? Who is serving whom?” he asks. Finally, he speaks about the death of Mozart. “Did I do it?” he asks dramatically, setting the scene for the rest of the play, which is set in 1781.
All throughout Salieri’s monologue, the chorus, playing the citizens of Vienna, dances behind him. This method of contact improvisation, where the actors improvise movements while guiding each other by way of touch, is elegant and graceful — serving as a marked contrast to Salieri’s rigidness on his wheelchair. This juxtaposition is a testament to the collaborative success of Gavrilova’s directing and Cadena’s choreography.
We are introduced to Mozart — played by Will Nixon ’19 — when he plays a game of cat-and-mouse with his wife-to-be, Constanze. Running all around the stage and even up the audience aisles, he is playful, loud, even irritating — almost a caricature of a character. Gavrilova and Cadena have made deliberate and astute staging choices, forcing our eyes to keep moving around the stage to follow Nixon.
When Salieri hears a composition by Mozart for the first time, he is astounded by its beauty. We hear the piece — played by a 15-piece orchestra sitting behind the main stage — with Salieri. Salieri fears that he will be usurped by this young man, who has been a child prodigy.
“Let me, God, be your conduit,” he pleads, moaning that the lines of music are like “lines of pain” around him. We feel his pain, conveyed not only by his words, but just as powerfully through Brodwin’s emotive facial expressions and gestures.
In the background, the citizens of Vienna continue to dance, swaying while still maintaining physical connection at three points of contact. They move all across the stage, running toward and away from each other. Their limbs are fluid, their movements entrancing. Aimed to give life to the citizens in the background, the addition of the improvised dance technique is what separates this production of “Amadeus” from others.
In the following scenes, Mozart and Salieri’s relationship and feelings toward one another are made clear through their interactions. Mozart plays a piece on the piano at stage left, improvising virtuosic variations. “The fourth doesn’t work; let’s try a third above,” Mozart comments, almost carelessly, as though he doesn’t need to think about the music he composes — it just flows directly to his fingers on the keys.
On the other side of the stage, Salieri watches and listens. Realizing that the earlier composition wasn’t just a fluke, the older composer stares out to the side, both envious of and angry about Mozart’s genius. Gavrilova sets the stage well: the audience is drawn to the literal and figurative spotlight on Nixon, yet is also captivated by Brodwin, sulking in the shadows.
Meanwhile, Mozart, though years younger than Salieri, is disdainful of the other man. Calling him a “musical idiot,” Mozart laughs at the simplicity — just “tonic, dominant, tonic, dominant” — of Salieri’s compositions. Nixon’s Mozart is exaggerated, but the acting is still believable. We can easily see why Salieri calls Mozart spiteful, sniggering, conceited — a “creature.” The costume design of this production further delineates the differences between the two composers. Nixon wears a bright red tailcoat for much of the play, as well as a towering white wig. In contrast, Brodwin, with a short, more natural haircut, is dressed haphazardly in duller colors.
Throughout the play, we watch Salieri progress from curiosity to anxiety to hatred to ultimate vengeance toward Mozart. The final scene is a monologue by Salieri, in which he looks upward to God and vows revenge for selecting Mozart to be his conduit. Brodwin masterfully captures these emotions, demonstrating her ability to go from hopelessness to rage within a single speech.
“From this day forward, you are my enemy. What use, after all, is man, if not to teach God these lessons?” Salieri puts on his bathrobe and rolls out on his wheelchair, and the lights go down. Did Salieri kill Mozart? His question at the beginning is left unresolved, but we may reach our own conclusions.
Contact AMY XIONG at firstname.lastname@example.org .