arisha: (amadeus couple)
[personal profile] arisha
I apparently haven't LJed about it since 2010, but rest assured that Amadeus, the not-a-biopic about Mozart and his fellow composer Salieri, remains one of my most very favourite movies. I've seen the movie (in both theatrical and director's cuts) a kajillion times, but I'm much less familiar with the play it's based on. I had read it and I had watched an amateur production that I found on YouTube, but (now to the point of this entry) it wasn't until last night that I finally got to see it live! Some thoughts:

· First up, if any of you are interested, the theatre where I saw Amadeus has posted an album of photos from their production on Facebook, and hopefully this link will take you there.

· This production borrowed a bit from the movie in that it sets the nineteenth century scenes in an insane asylum. The set was one big, grey room that got smaller towards the back. There were three doors in each of the side walls (that blended into the wall when closed) and the lighting often gave the impression of three windows in the non-existent fourth wall. The room somehow felt both huge and stifling. The wall at the back was sometimes replaced with a screen to show a street scene or the wall of a library. At the beginning, during the invocation Salieri does so that he can see the audience, the screen was replaced with a mirror or at least with something super reflective because as the house lights came up the audience was reflected in that back wall. I found this kind of cool but also kind of distracting!

More interesting than the set perhaps is that the Venticelli and the citizens of Vienna were replaced by patients at the insane asylum. During the nineteenth century scenes, they all wore rags and straightjackets and dirty make-up and they twitched or picked at their skin or jumped at every noise. For the eighteenth century scenes, they acted normally, but under their fancy costumes you could still see the holes in their pants and their sleeves. Count Orsini-Rosenberg had two locks of hair sticking out in opposite directions, Katherina Cavalieri's dress was pulled up so high in the front that you could see her hoop skirt, and the Venticelli only had a few accessories to go with their insane asylum rags.

I was really excited when I heard that the production was taking this approach, because I thought maybe it meant that they were going to commit to the idea of Salieri as an unreliable narrator, an approach that I would be very interested to see. But when I was actually watching it, I didn't get that vibe? Everyone acted so differently in the past and present scenes that I often forgot about the holes in their costumes. Maybe if some of the behaviour from the asylum scenes had shown through in the court scenes, I would have felt more like the patients were acting out what Salieri believed happened and less like we were watching what had actually happened. They only part that made me think Salieri might not be thinking straight came right at the beginning, when he refers to one of his fellow asylum patients as his cook and another as his valet and both of them seem surprised by it, but soon enough I totally forgot that even happened haha. Also, the actors who played Mozart and Constanze weren't in any of the asylum scenes, and their costumes as well as Salieri's were always in perfect shape, so in that way as well I felt we were meant to be watching events that actually happened. In the end, I'm not sure if this production was going for "Salieri the unreliable narrator" and just didn't take it far enough for me to really get it, or if I decided this production should be aiming for that and am confused because they didn't do what I wanted.

BUT I think I did still like the insane asylum setting. It definitely did have an effect on the show, even if it wasn't quite the effect I had been hoping for. Having the patients say the Venticelli's lines about how all Vienna is talking about Salieri made it feel less like the rumours were actually spreading around Vienna and more like the patients created them. And, since Salieri never leaves the stage, it was pretty creepy to see him confined to that one small room as other characters went in and out as they pleased. (Later in the play there was a moment where Mozart tried to leave the stage but someone closed the door in his face so he had to continue the scene. Ha!)

· There are two Venticelli in the script of the play, but this production had nine! About half were men and about half were women. Sometimes they came onstage in smaller groups and sometimes they came onstage all at once, apparently competing with each other to see who could give Salieri the juiciest news first. I like the Venticelli and had no problem with there being more of them, except that there were three of them in the scene where they pester Constanze to let them measure her leg and I would have preferred to have had just the two. Three means she's definitely outnumbered which makes it even less fair when Mozart yells at her for it.

· It seems that Peter Shaffer likes to rewrite things and as a result there are at least three different versions of the play for a production company to choose from. I'm not sure which version I saw last night, but I've read the 1980 version and it wasn't that one, although the differences were barely noticeable until the last few scenes. In the 1980 version, Mozart tells Salieri he's been dreaming of a man dressed in grey who beckons to him, then Salieri deliberately dresses all in grey and stands outside Mozart's window for seven nights to torment him, until at last Mozart is brave enough to invite him inside. The scene ends with Salieri shouting "Die! Die!" at Mozart until Mozart has a breakdown. In the version I saw last night, Salieri doesn't attempt to be the man in grey, and Mozart is only frightened by him for a moment until he realizes it's Salieri and invites him inside. The scene ends with Salieri begging Mozart to forgive him until Mozart has a breakdown. I definitely prefer the 1980 version ... the man in grey feels like an undeveloped idea in this other version and, although I can understand Salieri being all "oh man I'm sorry, I only did this to you to get back at God, please forgive me," I think it weakens the end of the story.

It's actually really difficult for me to discuss the play on its own merits because ever since I first read it I have been unsuccessful in seeing it as anything other than a rough draft of what would eventually become the movie. Maybe if I had encountered the play first or liked the movie less I wouldn't have this problem, but unfortunately we'll never know! The climactic scene of the play (Salieri shouting at Mozart either to die in one version, to forgive in another) is so completely different from the climactic scene in the movie (Salieri helping Mozart write the Requiem) that I feel I should be easily able to separate them in my head, but I actually find it really difficult. So I might be able to talk about the differences between the different versions of the play, but really what I'm thinking is "Why does the play always have Mozart realize that Salieri has been harming him? His last line shouldn't be cursing Salieri, it should be asking Salieri for forgiveness like in the movie, that's so much more interestingggg ..."

I was hoping that finally seeing the play live would help me to see it as its own separate thing, but unfortunately it doesn't look like that's happened. I don't get it! The movie and the play are so different!!!

· So when I was in high school I played in the pit orchestra for my school's annual musical, and the first year I did, the musical was set in Germany and my friend and I were pretty horrified to find that the actors were all pronouncing "Herr" without the "h." Luckily, like a week before opening night, we were able to convince most of them to pronounce the "h." I tell this story because GUESS WHAT. Not a single actor in this production of Amadeus pronounced the "h." Which is a very small thing that I found SUPER IRRITATING. Incoming huge generalization, but: my theory about this is that, as white western Canadians, the non-English language we are most familiar with is French, in which "h" is usually not pronounced. (And if you stopped taking French in high school you might have taken Spanish, in which "h" is never pronounced.) So I think when these actors see a non-English word starting with "h," they just automatically don't pronounce it. And I guess no one involved in this production even thought to question it? Even though in the movie they pronounce the "h"? But I noticed before the show started that in the program they list individual actors as "Venticelli" when the singular (as written in the script!!) is "Venticello" so I guess I shouldn't have expected that much effort would be put into the multilingual aspects of the play.

UGH I'M SORRY it's such a nitpick and I may well have been the only person in the theatre who even noticed but obviously I'm going to pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the language-y bits. I will politely not mention the parts where they actually had full lines in Italian and French.

· As mentioned before, I am not particularly good at reading plays. I reread the play over the weekend and didn't find it particularly humourous; it wasn't until I was sitting in the theatre watching certain parts and hearing everyone laughing around me that I was like, "Oh! That line was pretty funny!!" Although one of the biggest laughs came at a part that I'm not sure was supposed to be funny? Or maybe I would just prefer it not to be funny. Near the end of the play, Constanze ~gives birth~ to her second child, and this production showed that by having her pop the "pregnant" part of her dress off and hold it like it was a baby in a small basket. Well I have no idea how to describe it properly but I think it was actually kind of clever in terms of costuming. Unfortunately, it was also pretty unexpected and kind of bizarre, so that in the middle of the play's final, super serious scenes, the actors had to wait for the audience to stop laughing before they could continue. Not sure if they did that on purpose or not ...

· I feel really horrible writing this next bit, but: I wasn't sold on this actor as Salieri. I mean, huge respect to him for taking on a role that requires him to be onstage for literally the entire play, and he definitely had his moments, but overall I really wanted there to be more variation in his performance. He said most of his lines in the exact same tone, no matter what he was talking about or what part of the play we were at. When he was talking about how hearing Mozart's music for the first time caused him pain, he sounded the same as he did when he was talking about his sweet tooth, and I didn't really believe him. But to talk about things I did like - he had some pretty good facial expressions at certain points. His look of total astonishment as Mozart argues that the job of a composer is to "turn the audience into God" was pretty great. (It also made me wonder why Salieri isn't in that scene in the movie.) But my absolute favourite Salieri scene in this production was the last scene of Act I, when he's looking through Mozart's portfolio. The scene begins with Salieri sitting on a chair, looking through the music and telling us how it's making him feel. By this point I was already impressed just because the sound guys were able to cue the music perfectly so that it started when Salieri looked at the scores and stopped as soon as he looked at the audience. Then the scene and the music build and build until Salieri is stumbling around the room, throwing sheets of music in the air and on the floor and pushing his chair over and collapsing on the ground. Then he rises to give his big "From this time we are enemies" speech, and ... it was amazing. His delivery of "They say God is not mocked. I tell you, Man is not mocked! I am not mocked!" was so angry and so powerful and so good. I was amazed by how intense the scene became even though all it involved was one actor and some sound effects. It was a really fantastic way to end the first act and I just wish the actor had been able to continue his performance at that same level.

(The beginning of the second act was pretty cool, too - I thought they'd send someone onstage during intermission to pick up all the paper and right the chair, but they didn't. Instead, the second act began with the patients of the asylum wandering around the stage, picking up the papers and whispering "Salieri ... Salieri ..." Then they wandered offstage and the doors slammed all at once behind them, making this huge sound as Salieri was left alone in the room. So good!!)

· The actor who played Mozart has a really interesting look to him. Like, I remember in one of the DVD extras Milos Forman talks about how he wanted a guy with an unremarkable face to play Mozart, and this would not be that guy; his facial structure is kind of angular and pretty distinct. Well obviously I have no idea how to describe it but when I saw his picture in the newspaper's review of the play I was happy he was playing Mozart. Movie!Mozart feels like an actual character to me but play!Mozart feels like not much more than a collection of traits, which is maybe why I don't have much to say about this guy's acting. Although he did impress me in the scene where he learns his father is dead. And he managed to make the laugh even more annoying than it is in the movie, so there's that! He also got to do a lot more physical stuff than I'd pictured when reading the play - he climbed over tables and jumped over sofas and in one scene he even spilled a cup of water onto the floor! And in scenes where he was just standing, he was constantly tapping his finger on top of the piano or on the back of someone's chair. One specific moment that I really liked came at the beginning of the scene where he first meets the emperor. Everyone was looking at a door near the front of the stage, expecting him to come through it, but instead he JUMPED through a door at the back and landed onstage in a ridiculous pose and startled everyone.

It was also interesting to see a production where the actor playing Mozart was decidedly taller than the actor playing Salieri ... just a bit of a different visual dynamic I guess!

· Constanze's role in the play is not a big one, but I really liked this actress a lot. In the production I watched on YouTube, Constanze felt more like a caricature than an actual person, but the actress I saw last night was a lot more human. She was especially good in her scenes alone with Salieri. Her approach to the "Where shall we go?" lines was filled with a lot more resignation and attitude than Elizabeth Berridge's nervous take in the movie but it really worked.

· I was really surprised by how much more noticeable the music was in the play than it is in the movie. I guess you expect there to be background music in a movie, to the point where sometimes you don't even consciously notice it, but in the play last night every time they played something it felt like "WE'RE PLAYING MUSIC NOW" and I'm not sure how they could avoid that. Well, even though I like the movie more than the play, it's still really cool that they both exist and that they both do things the other couldn't do simply because of the difference in medium.

· I'm sure you can guess what mid-'80s pop song they played during the bows.

· IN CONCLUSION, even though I didn't love it quite as much as I hoped I would, I am really really happy that I was finally able to watch a live performance of Amadeus, and if I ever have the chance to go to another one, I totally will.
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arisha

July 2015

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