Joint Venture Makes For Cohesive AMADEUS

Collaboration among Western New York arts groups can only help serve the better good of the community and a happy pairing of Irish Classical Theatre with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is playing out at Kleinhans Music Hall, as both groups present Peter Shaffer’s TONY and Academy Award winning AMADEUS. While integrating live music with theatrical plays may have been commonplace at one time– think Beethoven’s Overture and incidental music to the play EGMONT or Mendelssohn’s interludes to ROMEO AND JULIET, it is a custom that has all but died of extinction in the 20th century. So the novelty of having the full BPO join forces with one of Buffalo’s premier theatre companies is truly a rare theatrical opportunity.

On most accounts, Mr. Shaffer’s comic drama lends itself beautifully to musical accompaniment as the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s career is told through the eyes of his arch nemesis, the Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri. While the factual information regarding the two composers private meetings in reality is slim, Shaffer creates fascinating encounters for the two, often playing up the young Mozart’s immaturity and sense of fun.

Director Fortunato Pezzimenti has placed all forces on the stage, with the acting area in front of the orchestra, and a small chorus placed at the side. This helped fill the vast Kleinhan’s stage somewhat, but often one hoped for more intimacy than lighting effects alone could allow. Veteran actor Vincent O’Neill has the daunting task of portraying the conniving Salieri. O’Neill begins the play as an elderly man looking back at his career. Through posture and subtle voice changes O’Neill successfully morphs from elderly to a young man, sinking his teeth into the meaty role. Long declamatory passages by Salieri help the audience to understand the complexities of the young Mozart’s composition as Salieri deconstructs a Mozart serenade. One wished for slightly better timing between the O’Neill and the music, as the script is quite specific in it’s descriptive language of the score. Mr. O’Neill’s brings the appropriate sense of awe, as well as jealousy towards the innovative young Mozart, helping to understand Salieri’s inner desire to prevent Mozart from out shining his own compositions.

Mozart is played by PJ Tighe, who essentially is called upon to be a buffoon idiot savant. Mozart’s childish playfulness is in stark contrast to his brilliancy in composing. We learn that entire operas were already written in his head- he merely needed to take the time to write them out. Tighe shone with boundless energy and an infectious giggle in the early scenes, as if the young Mozart was a sufferer of ADHD, always moving, bowing, and making off color noises. His frenzied conducting of the overture to THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO, clad in a pink wig, made it clear that no one had seen the likes of this composer before. As the play unfolds the brilliant Mozart is not fully accepted into the musical community and becomes destitute. Here is where the BPO forces are at their best at serving the drama, underscoring his physical and mental breakdown with segments of the the dark ominous DON GIOVANNI overture and the REQUIEM mass. Tighe’s unraveling and ultimate death scene is poignant and highly nuanced, without being melodramatic. Dying in the arms of his wife Constanze, ably played by Kathleen Macari, one ponders how such a genius could have lived out his final years penniless and buried in a paupers grave.

The talented cast was rounded out with David Lundy as Emperor Joseph II, whose bluntly honest opinion regarding the length of the Mozart operas and suggestion to cut some of the notes may be equally shared by opera goers today. His 3-4 hours operas often are taxing to many, despite their beauty. Elliot Fox as Count Orsini-Rosenberg and Doug Weyand as Baron Gottfried Van Swieten were great foils to the young Mozart. The small chorus made up of some of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus members helped add pathos to the drama, but their solo voices in the operatic arias were not up to the caliber of talent surrounding them on stage. Costume Designer Dixon Reynolds has produced elaborately detailed period costumes to complement the drama.
After the play’s conclusion, Maestro JoAnn Falletta smartly chose to play the final movement of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, allowing the audience to sit back and bask in the majesty of his music. Contemplating all that had been visually played out and thankful for the abundance of music he produced in his short life, this year the BPO allows us to celebrate Mozart’s birthday weekend with the added benefit of the theatrical gem that is AMADEUS.

AMADEUS runs from January 20 through 22, 2017 as a collaboration with Irish Classical Theatre and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall. For tickets and information, call 885-5000.

Joint Venture Makes For Cohesive AMADEUS by Michael Rabice,
Posted January 21, 2017