I am a great fan of the film “Amadeus”, with its stunning visual and aural representation of Mozart. So when I saw that the original stage play of the same name by Peter Shaffer was part of the National Theatre Live programme for 2017, I didn’t hesitate to book seats. For the uninitiated, The National Theatre Live programme has staged productions of plays, musical theatre and even operas, which are screened as a live performance on a specific evening at cinemas throughout UK. I wasn’t sure this would work, but having attended a ‘live’ performance of “Of Mice and Men” for my son’s GCSE English exam, which was streamed from Broadway: (you could hear the Cop Car sirens in the background!) I was sold on the concept!
Before the performance starts, there is a pre-performance discussion with members of the cast. This is really interesting because it can put into context some of the motivation behind the characters – and also as we don’t have programmes, we are able to hear first hand from the director, some of his thoughts.
Then the performance started! There is a full integration with an onstage orchestra who are choreographed to play a ‘crowd’ role within the performance. The lead characters: who are both composers are, of course, seen conducting and interacting with the orchestra, but there is also a cast of singers, courtiers, Mozart’s wife and commentators!
The play explores the relationship between Mozart and a court composer called Salieri; it is based on a short play by Pushkin. Salieri is in awe of Mozart’s talent as a composer, but not his boorish behaviour. He influences others to prevent Mozart’s music to be performed and recognised. It is a classic case of professional artistic envy with the added twist of Catholic guilt!
As I was familiar with the film, I was interested to see how this would work in the theatre. Well, clever director Michael Longhurst moves the scenes smoothly, moving the drama (and time scale) beautifully from Salieri as an old man, and in his prime. As the music and politics is woven into the drama, we see the impact of professional jealousy, poverty, illness and tortured genius on the main characters.
It would be easy to have excerpts of the music as a quasi recital, but this doesn’t happen; in fact there are variations on Mozart’s music. There is one occasion where there is a Brechtian twist on a musical montage of The Magic Flute. Very clever considering this opera was Singspiel. The quality of the performances was excellent. And any (ignorant) soul who believes orchestral players and opera singers can’t ‘perform’ would be recommended to watch this performance when it comes to a cinema near you.
It would be very easy to go down the route of trying to reduce costs by cutting parts, having recorded music and actors who can ‘sing’. Yet the genius of Mozart AND Shaffer weren’t diluted in any way: there were world class actors, exceptional opera singers and an outstanding orchestra, all who contributed to a most sublime evening. Catch it while you can!