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Amadeus ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 13, 2019 

The Viennese court awaits to hear what the Emperor thinks of Mozart’s latest opera ~ Photography by C. Stanley Photography

Tony Cisek’s brilliant set design featuring the golden curvature of a stringed instrument’s f-hole with its strings running the height of the stage.  Festooned with crystal chandeliers, it serves as a dramatic frame for the pious Antonio Salieri’s opening lines, “Music is God’s Art.”  We sense we are within this giant instrument itself, bearing witness to the music world’s greatest scandal.  Set in Vienna during the Age of Enlightenment, the play focuses on the fierce rivalry between the tormented court composer Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the child prodigy.  Now confined to a wheelchair and clinging to life, Salieri confesses to murdering his colleague and rival, the eccentric musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.   But did he, as he claims he did, poison him?  Or did he drive Mozart into the depths of madness through the deprivation and degradation he foisted upon him?

Composer Salieri (Ian Merrill Peakes) plays a welcoming march for Mozart (Samuel Adams, center) upon his arrival at the Viennese court (Deidra LaWan Starnes, left, James Joseph O’Neil, and John Taylor Phillips, right) ~ Photography by C. Stanley Photography

When they first meet, Salieri and the upstart Mozart trade barbs.  The young composer attempts to curry the emperor’s favor while the older Salieri, wildly jealous of Mozart’s extraordinary talents, seeks to undermine him.  Though court composer to three Viennese emperors, Salieri’s talent was marginal compared to Mozart’s.  To keep Mozart at bay he saw to it he and his adoring wife were both financially and emotionally poverty-stricken.

Eventually his jealousy of Mozart’s talents destroys him and, along with that his belief God was the ruler of his fate.  In his soliloquies to God – some prideful, others with fist raised toward the heavens – he provides us with some of the most powerful moments of play.

The eccentric musical genius Mozart (Samuel Adams) shows off his opera for the Viennese court ~ Photography by C. Stanley Photography

Writer Sir Peter Shaffer (Equus, Lettuce and Lovage, The Royal Hunt of the Sun) imagines this modern ‘revenge comedy’ as a dramatic interpretation of the relationship between the two composers adding two venticelli, gossipmongers who tell everyone exactly what they want to hear, an assortment of colorful, back-stabbing court figures, a sexy soprano who curries favor with Mozart, and Mozart’s devoted child bride, Constanze, played pitch perfect by Lilli Hokama.

Sections of several of Mozart’s finest compositions, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and his Requiem in D Minor, are woven into the plot and serve as a heavenly musical backdrop.

Mozart (Samuel Adams) lovingly teases his fiancé Constanze (Lilli Hokama) ~ Photography by C. Stanley Photography

Exquisitely directed by Richard Clifford with sumptuous 18th century costumes by Mariah Anzaldo Hale, the play is filled with passion, revenge, and malevolent conspiracy, with a hefty dose of slapstick and lust.  The performances alone will take your breath away.  Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri gives one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on any American stage and Samuel Adams as Mozart proves to be a dazzlingly equal counterbalance.

Powerful, witty and unforgettable.  Five stars!!!  Don’t miss it!

Additional performers: Justin Adams as Baron van Swieten; Amanda Bailey as Venticello; Louis Butelli as Venticello; Junior Gomez as Salieri’s Valet; James Joseph O’Neil as Count Orsini-Rosenberg; Yvonne Paretzky as Teresa Salieri; John Taylor Phillips as Emperor Joseph II; Ned Read as Kapellmeister Bonno; Deidra LaWan Starnes as Madame von Strack; and Kathryn Zoerb as Katherina Cavalieri.

With Lighting Design by Max Doolittle and Sound Design by Sharath Patel.

Through December 22nd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077.

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