Peter Shaffer has a lot to answer for. Thanks to him, we now link Antonio Salieri’s name to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s as someone who somehow had a hand in Amadeus’s downfall and death. It’s true that when Mozart first arrived in Vienna from Salzburg, Antonio Salieri was so well established as a court musician for the Hapsburgs that sought-after positions went to him instead of to the young Mozart. Towards the end of Mozart’s life, though, there is documented evidence of their social and professional contact – they even collaborated on a work together – and Salieri was entrusted with the musical education of Mozart’s son; hardly the kind of exchange one would expect from somebody who wished Mozart harm.
Rumors of Salieri’s nefarious behavior began to circulate not long after Mozart’s death. By 1832, a singspiel about Mozart’s life hinted at Salieri’s jealousy of Mozart. That same year, Alexander Pushkin published a poetic drama on the theme, and the 1897 opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart and Salieri, suggests that Salieri poisoned Mozart out of jealously. So, Peter Shaffer is not the only one – but his Amadeus is certainly the version that has caught the imagination the most powerfully. And so it should; it is a work of art.
The production of Shaffer’s Amadeus at Center Stage is the third stage production I have seen (aside from the compelling Milos Forman/F. Murray Abraham/Tom Hulce film version) and by any standards it is superb. Artistic Director, Kwame Kewi-Armah’s direction is so seamless that it comes across as inevitable. The ensemble – from the whispering gossips (Lucia Spina and Jay Russell) to Constanza (Kayla Ferguson) to Emperor Joseph II (Keven Orton) – is uniformly strong. But it is the pivotal roles of Salieri (Bruce Nelson) who is forced to face his own mediocrity because only he has the ears to hear the divine gift of Mozart, and Mozart himself (played to brilliant affect by Stanton Nash as an individual with attention deficit disorder) that are electrifying. The synergy they create on stage is so strong that, by the end of the play, you have forgotten about the actors, and are completely absorbed in the unfolding dynamic between these two composers.amadeus, Center Stage, Mozart, salieri