Reviewer's Rating

How often do we find ourselves humming a tune, not realizing it’s a Mozart composition? You don’t have to be a classical music aficionado to know who Mozart is, and how his genius has become entrenched in history and our society. His music and story are permanently fused into the collective DNA of humans, the arts, sciences, and even an integral part of all modern cultures. Even by today’s standards, his story reflects society’s ongoing need to find truth, even if it means believing in conspiracy theories and hear-say, which could only explain Mozart’s sudden and tragic death at the age 35-years old.

Using the artistic question of “What if …,” the late playwright Peter Shaffer wrote one the most powerful and memorable dark comedies of the 20th century. Shaffer introduced Mozart to a new generation while toying with the plot that the world’s most beloved composer and his claim to have been poisoned by someone envious of his gifts, status, and success could be true. Amadeus, the award winning play performing now at the Folger Theatre, embraces this dark question and many more. Using a cast of historic characters, Shaffer has written a fictitious, unique, and masterful tale that explores a potential mystery of Mozart’s death, while at the heart of this tale, we are shown how ambition, envy, and revenge can consume a person and destroy them.

Set in 1823 Vienna, Antonio Salieri, the play’s main antagonist, was once a famed composer of Italian opera and a favorite of Emperor Joseph II. On the eve of his death, he admits to the world to murdering Mozart 32 years prior, and explains his story of the rumors of Mozart’s true death. Looking back to the beginnings of his relationship with Mozart in 1781, he speaks directly to the audience in an the explanation of why he decided to ruin the young composer’s career. He shows no shame in clarifying that this is his own way to wage a war on God for his unfairness for bestowing great gifts on the child-like and profane Mozart, while he had dedicated his life to being God’s instrument with devout piety and incorruptible faith, and has not received anything for his sacrifices.

Director Richard Clifford’s love for this play comes through in his masterful direction. The historic setting in Amadeus touches on the changes revolving around the play’s characters in the 18th Century, the “Age of Enlightenment.” As Salieri sees immortality in Mozart’s music, we come to see the roots of change that are part of this enlightened society, but on closer inspection aren’t enlightening at all. This puts the audience in a position of being ‘God’ and determining if Salieri’s confession is true or just another way to draw attention to his questionable talents.

Along with Clifford’s outstanding direction, he has chosen wisely the cast performing the gifted dialogue and physical movements of this piece. Award-winning Ian Merrill Peakes as Antonio Salieri and Samuel Adams as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are transcendent in their performances. Both have the ability to wrap the audience in a blanket of understanding as to why they are at this crossroads in their lives, and with each line of dialogue, they allow the spectator to be lost in a memorizing world of poetry and understanding to just who Salieri and Mozart are.

Lilli Hokama is excellent in her performance as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s long-suffering wife. We see her change before our eyes as she learns just how cruel the world can be, and grows into a strong and determined woman who will do anything to take care of her family, Mozart and his legacy that no one believes in.

A final treat to this excellent production is the staging itself, which is a unique as the story it supports. Award winning Tony Cisek has created a set that looks like an actual musical instrument. With multiple elements looking like the scroll, peg-box, and strings of a violin (or some may say the inside of a piano), there is a feeling of commotion, yet a perfect harmony to each character and how they each fit into the environment like the notes on a sheet of music.

As a longtime fan of Mozart’s music and the movie Amadeus, I cannot express how much I enjoyed this production of the original play. I’ve always wanted to see this play live, and the Folger’s current production does not disappoint. If anything, it provides a richer understanding of the story, and a new assessment of why we all love Mozart. I expect when award season comes around, this production will have many nominations.