The title of this article are the words spoken by Antonio Salieri upon seeing Mozart’s last musical manuscript, Requiem. It was left unfinished at Mozart’s death in 1791, age only 35. As we witness the last moments of Mozart’s life with this manuscript in his hands, hearing the Requiem seems to hold within it all the grief and suffering of life.
Separating fact from fiction in the lives of Mozart and Salieri has become almost impossible (except for musical scholars) ever since Peter Schaffer’s 1979 stage play Amadeus and the subsequent 1984 film. I won’t try to disentangle it here, but merely issue a caution that little of what one sees in the play is factual.
The version I attended on April 3 was held at the Klett Center for the Performing Arts in Georgetown. The unique aspect of this performance was the presence of the Central Texas Philharmonic, under the direction of Stefan Sanders. They took up the back portion of the stage, with the acting taking place in the front portion.
I asked one of the members of the Central Texas Philharmonic what it was like being on stage instead of the usual position of being below stage. “It felt like being in the pit but also part of the piece.” On the structure of the music that was played, namely short segments from various compositions, the instrumentalist said “It was a little bit more of a medley, if you will. But it was just pauses in between the cues and when you come in. I wished I could play a little bit more of each piece; I think that’s what I found myself – wanting more.”
A very different experience awaits the audience at the Ground Floor Theatre (GFT), where the Penfold Theatre Company is staging its remaining performances of Amadeus thru April 9. The director of Penfold’s Amadeus, Liz Fisher, stated “If Mozart were alive today, I imagine him writing electronic dance music or hip hop, remixing old tunes into a totally new sound. That is what we explore in bringing Amadeus from the concert hall to the GFT.”
I did not hear both performances, but one person who did told me “the experience of being in the room with an orchestra is different vibrationally. We’re far way from the performers here in Georgetown but the GFT you are close to the actors and hearing the operatic voices directly, not through speakers.” And of course, the music is quite different too. In Georgetown I was delighted by excerpts from Symphonies no. 25 and 40, a Clarinet Concerto, the Mass in C minor, and selections from The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. At GFT one will hear a “hip-hop” remix of Mozart’s classics from local composer Michael Morét.
The acting and singing I heard was at a high level. The intensity of the vocals was apparent throughout, imparting just the right pitch of dramatis. Everything was on-point, and the vocals were congruent with the music. The two leads, Kareem Badr as Salieri and Diego Arroyo Aceves as Mozart, were perfect protagonists. They delivered a performance worthy of a Broadway production.
Once Salieri hears the music of Mozart, he knows his posterity is doomed. Of one composition, Salieri says it expressed “pain as I had never known it. It seemed I heard the voice of God.” Instead of being inspired, he dedicated the next few years to ruining the life of Mozart. In the play, at least, he was quite successful in that mission. Every dramatic play needs a finely-wrought villain, and Badr knows how to wring every nuance of malevolence out of this juicy script: “What Mozart does turns my finest work into lifeless scratches.” The child-like innocence of Aceves’ portrayal of Mozart makes the tragedy even more pointedly painful to endure than might otherwise be the case.
A tremendous show, highly recommended!
The cast includes Karina Dominguez as Constanza, Chuck Winkler as Emperor Joseph, Miranda Marquez as Von Strack/Katherina Cavalieri, Bryce Bartu as Orsini, Ev Lunning as Van Swieten, Natalie Blackman as Venticelli 1, and Lena Hill as Venticelli 2.
Written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Liz Fisher, the production team includes Costume Design by Aaron Flynn, Sound and Lighting Design by Carlos Nine, Set Design by Gary Thornsberry, Music Direction by Claudia Chapa, and Technical Direction by Kellan DiDonato, with Kelsey Moringy as Stage Manager and Kat Kennedy as Production Manager.
Tickets can be found at: https://www.penfoldtheatre.org/event/amadeus/2022-04-09/
Photo: Winkler at left. Badr is dressed in the long red coat, with Aceves at centre stage, to his left in this image.