Amadeus was Mozart’s middle name but it also defines what this play is all about – the relationship between man and God. Or, rather, two men and God. One, Salieri, loves God, or is at least prepared to do business with him, and vows to be virtuous on the understanding that He will make him a creator of great music; but God does not keep his side of the bargain, and Salieri knows all too well that he is a musical mediocrity. The other man, Mozart, is meanwhile the beloved of God. As a man, he is infantile and scatological, yet he is the instrument through which God sings. This is the heart of Peter Schaffer’s masterpiece and the relationship between the two men is almost a sideshow. As Salieri says, his war is with the God who has humiliated him. Mozart is merely the battlefield.
The battle is, of course, all about the music. And in this remarkable production, director Michael Longhurst has brought the music quite literally centre stage. The Southbank Sinfonia don’t just play Mozart, they are part of the action, making the music wheel and whirl around the actors and the music, (as it should be), is the plot. It is Mozart’s music that destroys Salieri until jealousy and a sense of injustice devour him. How could he, a “good man” be so mocked by God as to languish in mediocrity when this vulgar buffoon of a Mozart creates music that is simply divine? Lucian Msamati as Salieri is by turns as devious as Iago (another role in which he’s excelled), righteously outraged, pitiable in his despair. There have been many great Salieris (Paul Schofield for one) but I don’t believe any has surpassed Msamati. He is, in short, magnificent.
Adam Gillen as Mozart is all blond curls and baby pink Doc Martens, giggles and gaping mouths. His clothes are eye-wateringly bright, he is socially Aspergic, locked in arrested development, longing for the approbation of his stern father and his lost childhood where he was the pet of all the royal courts of Europe. Foul-mouthed, ridiculous, at the end he is a pitiful figure, dying in his wife’s arms, an Enlightenment Pieta. Karla Crome as Mozart’s wife, gives a warm, down-to-earth performance, playing Constanze as a great deal cleverer than she first looks. Tom Edden is a wonderfully comic, exasperated emperor. Fleur de Bray is in mostly fine voice as the soprano Katherina Cavalieri.
The night belongs, though, to the music and Msamati. You cannot help but feel for the poor man when Mozart uses Salieri’s pedantic march first to make brilliant variations on the spot, and then turns it into Non piu andrai – the comic call to arms for Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. Rarely have I seen music so effectively interwoven into a play. And both the music and Msamati will send a shiver down your spine. Five stars? And a bit more.
Amadeus at the Olivier Theatre until 1st February 2017. Approximately 3 hours including an interval. Production images by Marc Brenner. For more information and tickets please visit the website.