We all know someone – a colleague, friend or family member – who achieves so effortlessly what we struggle so hard to do, and does it much better into the bargain. It’s easy, therefore, to sympathise with Antonio Salieri, the composer at the centre of Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus who tells the story of his rival: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While Salieri is lauded with wealth, privilege and the title of court composer, he is cursed with the knowledge that Mozart’s work, while not always appreciated in its own time, is the music of a genius. The title is perfect for the play: not only is it the genius composer’s middle name, but translated from Latin it means “for the love of God”: and Salieri spends much of the play begging God for the chance to make great music, eventually realising that God has chosen to channel himself through the vulgar, childlike Mozart instead.
While initially sympathising with Salieri as his comparatively ordinary compositions pale beside Mozart’s groundbreaking work, as the play goes on his behaviour becomes more and more uncomfortable to witness. Lucian Msmati is superb in the role, his despair and pain heartbreaking to watch, lightened by his often caustic wit. Adam Gillen as Mozart does a wonderful job too: spoilt, arrogant and irritating, it’s easy to see why Salieri would dislike him, but as the court composer cheats him out of commissions and teaching jobs, leaving him destitute, he becomes a heartbreakingly sympathetic character, trying desperately to finish his Requiem before his untimely death.
The production features members of the Southbank Sinfonia on stage, playing music by Mozart and by the production’s composer Simon Slater. This works really well and really brings the music to life. Chloe Lamford’s staging is impressive, the famous Olivier drum revolve lowering to create an orchestra pit from which the band play Mozart’s greatest works.
I wasn’t born when the original production of Amadeus wowed audiences at the National, so I can’t compare this one to that. However, on its own terms it’s a wonderful production, and one I’d thoroughly recommend.