by Darby Turnbull
Poor Antonio Salieri, like King Richard III, his legacy as a person and composer has been mythologised in pop culture as the petty, miserable ‘patron saint of mediocrity’ (Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus) eclipsed in posterity by his professional contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Directed and translated by David Meadows Mozart and Salieri is a fascinating study in contrasts; one half is Alexander Pushkin’s 1830 play written in verse and the other its operatic counterpart composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov using Pushkin’s text. It’s a rare pleasure to see the same story presented in two different mediums allowing for a compliment of styles and performance interpretations. In both versions Salieri takes the audience into his confidence to lament his existential horror that Mozart, in his eyes a debauched nitwit, should be blessed with such transcendent musical genius which he views as his divine right given the toil, discipline and sacrifice he has made for his art. Mozart is a peripheral figure, his connection to Salieri interspersed in two segments.
At this performance I saw Karlis Zaid as Salieri and his immersion into the character is so natural I’m tempted to return for a second time to see him as Mozart as I would honestly need to see the transformation to envision it. He plays him as a nebbish, unexceptional husk of a man; the kind you’d pass in the street without registering. His obsession and creative jealousy have already reduced him to a shadow of what he must have been. Mr Zaid’s performance is unnerving in his seemingly simple intensity, someone whose inconspicuous nature makes him even more terrifying. However; it is when he listens to Mozart’s music does he, perhaps against his will, melt and surrender himself to its divinity. Edgar Wegner interestingly plays Mozart as an affable everyman; somewhat belying Salieri’s and our image of him as a flamboyant, debauched man child whose genius seems like an accident of fate. His portrayal adds an extra layer to Salieri’s paranoia and monosyllabic obsession that Mozart’s gifts are unworthy of him because of his countenance.
Bass Baritone Adrian Tamburini’s Salieri compliments Zaid’s beautifully; his passion has not yet been wrung out of him he plays him as an alpha male who dominates the space with nuance and vitality. Tamburini takes full advantage of the license to heighten his performance to explore varied facets of Salieri’s psyche; he’s a completely different person around Mozart, easy going and fraternal and brooding and vitriolic when alone. When he listens to Mozart’s music it seems to be less sensual and more cerebral; to me it was wonderment at his virtuosity, as if he is analysing the movements note by note with the precision of a scientist. Tenor Martin Buckingham brings a lovely energy to Mozart. Someone whose lust for all of life’s flavours is evident in his every move; impulsive, puckish and infectiously charming. In both versions there seems to be the indication that Mozart sees in Salieri a true contemporary; a rare being whose genius is on par with his own, someone with whom he can be his truest self; Mr Buckingham goes further to suggest that he sees him as a more paternal figure rather than the mutuality in Mr Wegner’s portrayal.
Alan Cook’s musical direction and accompaniment is beautifully resonant and recorded in the small space. Given that his playing is projected from backstage via speaker it’s refreshingly crisp and neat. The conversational duets between Mozart and Salieri have a beautifully consistent intensity and Salieri’s arias are measured and potently rich if occasionally overpowered by Mr Tamburini’s full power.
David Meadows’s production is elegant in its economy with some interesting discernible changes in blocking between the two pieces. Both are done in efficient, modern dress; Mozart wears a very meta Haydn t shirt which I must confess I chuckled a little too hard at.
Mozart and Salieri plays at the Butterfly Club until Saturday 14th of December and is an excellent opportunity for classical enthusiasts to see an intimate, rarely performed opera and play in a chamber setting.
Performances: 4 Direction:4 Set/Costume:4
Lighting/Sound: 4 Text: 4