Amadeus at the BPO

The Irish Classical Theatre Company presents Amadeus at Kleinhans

BY JAN JEZIORO

amadeus

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra music director JoAnn Falletta is excited about this weekend’s collaborative presentation of Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” with the Irish Classical Theatre Company. “As you know,” says JoAnn, “the BPO has had a longstanding tradition of yearly celebrating Mozart’s January 27th birthday by offering our patrons a concert devoted to his glorious music. Our celebration of the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be particularly significant this year since, for the first time, we have the wonderful opportunity to collaborate in this celebration with Vincent O’Neil, co-founder and artistic director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company, and the very talented members of his company in a new, fully-staged production of Peter Shaffer’s multi-award winning play “Amadeus”. There will be only three performances of this new production, which takes place on the mainstage of Kleinhans Music Hall, on Friday, Jan. 20 and Saturday, Jan. 21, at 8pm, and on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2:30pm.

Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, his highly fictionalized dramatic treatment of the relationship between Mozart and his fellow, somewhat older contemporary composer, Antonio Salieri, was first presented at the Royal National Theatre in London in 1979. Amadeus proved to be an unexpectedly huge success, and the award-winning Broadway production that opened in 1980 enjoyed almost 1200 performances. The phenomenal theatrical success of Amadeus was surpassed by the astounding worldwide success of Czech director MiloŇ° Forman’s 1994 film version, which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. More of the potential audience members at this weekend’s BPO performances of Amadeus will have undoubtedly seen the over-the-top film version, rather than the more subtly psychologically penetrating stage version.

The genesis of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus is interesting.¬† “I came up with the idea for this play after reading a lot about Mozart” said Shaffer in a 2013 interview in The Guardian. “I was struck by the contrast between the sublimity of his music and the vulgar buffoonery of his letters. I am often criticised for portraying him as an imbecile, but I was actually conveying his childlike side: his letters read like something written by an eight-year-old. At breakfast, he’d be writing this puerile, foul-mouthed stuff to his cousin; by evening, he’d be completing a masterpiece while chatting to his wife.”

“Amadeus is really a very poignant play,” says JoAnn Falletta. “The playwright Peter Shaffer was very much interested in comparing the difference between an average, or perhaps even mediocre composer like Salieri, who was nevertheless very successful professionally, and a natural musical genius like Mozart, who struggled during his lifetime to achieve the universal recognition that all succeeding generations have overwhelmingly acknowledged. Shaffer increases the dramatic tension by showing the audience that Salieri, as a much more than just competent composer himself, was in fact the only one in Vienna who could realize the unique greatness of Mozart’s as a composer. I’m personally thrilled that we can be a part of this Irish Classical production. Vincent was originally cast in the role of Salieri when the ICTC first presented a production of Amadeus in its home at the Andrews Theatre in 2005, but he fell ill and had to miss the entire run of the play, so this chance to finally play Salieri means so much to him personally.”

While this production will include most of the music of Mozart that was featured in the film version, there are some differences. “I’ve read the play several times,” says JoAnn, “and I noted all the works of Mozart that are referred to specifically, using them as my guide. Working both with Fortunato Pizzamenti, who is the ICTC producing director and the director of this production, and with Vincent we decided which works to include and how to present them. Some works will be played under the dialogue, while some will be presented without dialogue. At one point, while Salieri is leafing through several of Mozart’s musical manuscripts, and getting more and more convinced of his genius, the orchestra will play brief excerpts of the works that he is looking at. I’m particularly looking forward to ending the performance with the last movement of the Jupiter Symphony, Mozart’s final symphony and a work that he himself never heard performed before his death.”

The orchestra will be at the rear of the stage, with the action of play taking place in front of the musicians. The musicians will be joined by members of the BPO Chorus, Adam Luebke, music director. Timothy Lane will sing the role of the Count and Sarabeth Matteson will sing the role of the Countess in the excerpts from The Marriage of Figaro, while the bass soloist for Figaro’s aria “Non piu andrai” is Kevin Cosbey. The tenor for the aria “Wie stark ist Nicht Zauberton” from The Magic Flute is Dan Johnson.

Vincent O’Neill and PJ Tighe, who will co-star in the role of Mozart, recently enjoyed great success at the ICTC as the stars of Equus, an earlier, intense play by Peter Shaffer, in a collaboration that bodes well for this production. The production also stars David Lundy as the Emperor Joseph, Anthony Alcocer and Ray Boucher as the two Venticelli, Elliot Fox as Count Orsini-Rosenberg, Doug Weyand as Baron Van Swieten and Kathleen Macari as Constanze Weber.

Tickets and Information: 885-5000 or www.bpo.org