Theater Review: ‘Amadeus’ at Syracuse Stage via Webstream, A Study in Envy

Jason O’Connell as Salieri

By Jonathan Spira on 28 March 2020
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When Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” came to the stage, first in 1979 at the National Theater in London and in 1980 at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway with Ian McKellar, Tim Curry, and Jane Seymour, it took the world by storm. It was a play infused with and about music, yet it wasn’t a musical, a play with murder and intrigue, yet it wasn’t a whodunit.

Syracuse Stage’s brilliant production of “Amadeus” opened and closed on the very same night but the producers had the foresight to ask WCNY, the local member of the Public Broadcasting Service, to record it, which was done with a four-camera crew.  The result gives the social-distancing theatergoer the feeling of having the best seat in the house, not a small feat especially given the short notice the theater had to put its plan into place.

The title, “Amadeus,” is somewhat misleading. The play is not about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, nor about his music, but about the anguish of Antonio Salieri, the sin of envy, and God.

Shaffer’s play was inspired by the 1830 Alexander Pushkin play “Mozart and Salieri” but, while he was more popular than Mozart during his lifetime, after Salieri’s death few non-musicologists knew of him until “Amadeus” came to the stage (and later to the big screen).

Syracuse Stage’s “Amadeus” is alive and fresh, no small feat for it taking place in the 18th century court of Emperor Joseph II of Austria, one of the three great Enlightenment monarchs (and the subject of my dissertation at the University of Munich).  Joseph II (Avery Glymph) was a highly regarded supporter of the arts, as well as of religious freedom, and a patron of both composers.

It is here we find the rather elderly and mediocre Italian court composer Salieri (Jason O’Connell), who uses a cane to get around before he transforms in a metamorphosis before the audience’s eyes into his younger self. Salieri is a pious man who expects God, he explains to the audience, to reward him for his virtue by bestowing upon him the gift to compose great music.  But virtue means nothing, he learns: his very young and immature arch nemesis, Mozart, portrayed so brilliantly by Mickey Rowe as a ridiculous potty-mouthed boy genius, has been rewarded with the very gift Salieri craves.  The more attention Mozart gets from Joseph II, the more Salieri is determined to sabotage his career.

“Italians, I’m sick of them,” Mozart drunkenly screams one night when leaving the court.

In Mr. O’Connell’s superb performance, Salieri’s anguish worsens when he comes to the realization that Mozart was merely transcribing music from his head.   “I shall block you on this earth as long as I am able,” he vows to no one in particular, speaking of “the war I fought with God through a creature named Amadeus.”

Although Shaffer’s Salieri recognized Mozart’s works as perfect, he also ensured (at least in Shaffer’s version of history) that no one heard them, leaving him as the preeminent composer of his time.

While I didn’t see McKellen’s Salieri, I did enjoy the 1984 movie version that earned F. Murray Abrahaman Oscar, but O’Connell’s Salieri has completely replaced Abraham’s in my conception of the character.

The vibrant staging by Bob Hupp with Tracy Dorman’s striking period costumes in a set by Mischa Kachman that – to my Viennese eyes – more than passes for the splendor of the Hofburg and Schönbrunn (although the rooms in the Hofburg did not, unlike the stage, have Mozart’s face visible on the floor) and “Amadeus” is worth the price of a ticket, $35, for as many people as can fit on your sofa.

The play is accessible from a Web browser (there’s no Apple TV app), but it was simple enough to cast the play from my Apple iPad using AirPlay and see it on my living room’s large flatscreen. You’re probably already reading this on your tablet or smartphone so hurry over to the Syracuse Stage box office to get your ticket before ticket sales end.


Limited Engagement: Webcast Tickets on Sale Through March 29, 2020, Viewable Through April 14
Syracuse Stage
820 East Genesee Street
Syracuse, N.Y. 13210
Running time: Two hours and 50 minutes (including one interval)

(Photo: Accura Media Group)


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