A man, envious of his rival’s genius, explains to an audience why he killed his enemy. It’s not “Hamilton.” It’s “Amadeus,” a theater studies senior project in directing for Irina Gavrilova ’17 and movement design for Alex Cadena ’17.
Opening this Friday at the Whitney Theater in the Whitney Humanities Center, the show chronicles the lives of famed classical composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, played by Will Nixon ’19, and Antonio Salieri, played by Rora Brodwin ’18. Salieri, infuriated that God bestowed genius upon Mozart, attempts to thwart his rival’s musical success through a series of schemes.
Gavrilova said that she thinks the struggle between brilliance and mediocrity is especially relevant at Yale. According to Cadena, the show is an unprecedented combination of text and movement as the theater studies major has never before had a movement design thesis. “Amadeus” runs from Friday, Dec. 2, through Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Whitney Theater.
“We here are at a campus made by or for Mozart,” Gavrilova said. “The story of Salieri is a man who feels forgotten and deprived somehow by God of the talent that he strives for. He has to remain in someone else’s shadow.”
“It’s a relevant story at Yale in general,” she added. “We have all found ourselves doubting if we belong on this campus full of geniuses.”
Gavrilova said that she and Cadena had different focuses as they worked. She said that she focused more on the text and characters.
Still, she added that while their modes of work diverged, both were interested in exploring how physicality and acting can combine to tell a narrative.
The main movement technique used in the show is contact improvisation, in which actors improvise movements while maintaining physical points of contact with each other. Cadena described the style as “acrobatic” and “physically demanding.”
Since many of the motions are not choreographed, the audience will see a slightly different performance each time, Cadena said.
“Nominally, we talk about Alex [Cadena] creating images out of bodies and me creating images out of words,” Gavrilova said.
In order to help the actors develop as performers, Cadena brought professionals to teach workshops. The workshops were led by a ballet choreographer, a Yale School of Drama movement designer and a certified instructor to work on kinesthetic awareness.
The performers’ movements are not the only unique aspect of the project. Cadena said that she also tried to distinguish the production process from other similar shows at Yale.
“Something that I realized in my three or four years here, is that I didn’t feel that I was learning a lot of things during the theater projects I worked on here,” Cadena said. “I found a lot of similar sentiments in other actors and designers. It shouldn’t work like that. It should be a collaborative, artistic process.”
Though the Citizens of Vienna, as the chorus is called in the script, do not have assigned roles, each actor developed a character history and explored distinct physical expressions relevant to their individual roles.
The show also features live music, conducted and selected in part by musical director Stephan Sveshnikov ’18. He leads a 15-piece orchestra and four vocalists, who are occasionally joined by the cast. He described the score as Mozart’s “greatest hits” with a few compositions taken from Salieri.
Sveshnikov, who has a background in classical music, wanted to be involved because he said “Amadeus” was the first time he had seen theater and classical music merge at Yale.
The play, by Peter Shaffer, was inspired by “Mozart and Salieri,” a short 1830 play written by Alexander Pushkin. Some scholars have criticized Shaffer’s fictionalized account, arguing it exaggerates the hatred between the two men.
Originally presented at London’s Royal National Theatre in 1979, the play transferred to Broadway and won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play.