The review is in
Rock me Amadeus? The Alley's witty take on Wolfey is more of an inside operalover's delight
Well, there it is.
That was the technique opted by Joseph II (played masterfully by Chris Hutchison) for delivering decisive news, adding to the comic air and cacophonous rolling laughter encouraged by Alley Theatre's highly exaggerated and theatrical production of Amadeus.
But one would think, and rightfully so, that anything called Amadeus would have some sort of music focus and center around the character of Mozart (though his baptismal name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart and his wife Constanze called him Wolfey, for short).
It would be serious, academic, poised and elegant, maybe even snobby and elitist, what some consider opera to be, even if it's nothing of the sort.
But the Alley Theatre's Amadeus, directed by Jonathan Moscone, is nothing of the sort. It's hilarious, witty and savvy, in a milieu on its own, bridging the genres of opera, theater and classical music with the darker side of human Darwinian urges and emotions. It's about jealousy and survival of the fittest.
I always found it peculiar that Amadeus has more to do with Mozart's nemesis, Antonio Salieri. But I suppose in the name of popularity and capitalism, it was much easier for playwright Peter Shaffer to do away with an unknown personage in the title as he adapted what started as a small play by Aleksandr Pushkin, Mozart and Salieri, turned into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov and ending up as a contemporary play and film.
Everyone knows Mozart. No one remembers Salieri, until now.
In many ways, Amadeus is an opera lover's play. Those unfamiliar with Mozart's works may be at a slight disadvantage and miss the many astute and quick-witted references. If you were puzzled why many laughed and nodded at certain scenes, here is why.
A naughty and mischievous spanking scene could have been mistaken as slapstick comedy, where in fact, it was a satisfying allusion to Don Giovanni's"Batti, batti o bel Masetto" where a young bride, Zerlina, begs for forgiveness from her jealous beau. Indeed, she suggests a good whacking as a way to make peace.
The repeated and senseless "pa, pa, pa" in the middle of a playful brawl between Amadeus and Constanze may have been perceived as baby-like babble-esque idiocies. But those acquainted with The Magic Flute would draw a direct connection to the Papageno and Papagena duet.
Amadeus's improv on a theme Salieri morphed a static and unremarkable melody into the tune that Mozart employed for Marriage of Figaro's "Non Più Andrai," where the title character mocks the immature youngster Cherubino for his future life in the military.
Allusions aside, it's important to note that Amadeus is a highly fictional account of the characters' rivalry. Yes, they did compete for similar posts and commissions, but dismiss any notions that Salieri was the main catalyst behind Mozart's demise.
But how eccentric was Mozart?
In a letter, his wife described his voice as "rather soft in speaking and delicate in singing," a harsh contrast to Shaffer's characterization. There are some that speculate he may have had Tourette Syndrome, which would explained his interest in feces-centered jokes in some of his letters, which also showed up in music he shared with family and friends.
But that didn't make it to Amadeus's script.
If anything, Amadeus is an advocacy piece for classical music and composers, demystifying and humanizing artists who are considered to have divine talents. Mozart, arguably the poster child for the classical period, was as Homo sapiens as they come with his share of baggage. And his music, serious at times, has many instances of hilarity by working around the banal of the everyday.
On a macro level, Amadeus has nothing to do with music, Mozart or Salieri, and its enjoyment and understanding does not rely on knowledge of the characters, the classical period and music. It is more about the exploration of the effects of jealousy, deceit, betrayal onto our lives and the lives of others. And anyone can relate to that.
Curious about the real Mozart and his music? This weekend's Houston Symphony concert includes Mozart's Serenade No. 6 in D Major and his Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major. Rumors are going around that the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra's surprise piece will be a Mozart overture. Houston Grand Opera'sMarriage of Figaro opens on April 15 and runs through April 30.
Wouldn't it have been nice if the Alley Theatre, Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera had collaborated for a structured Mozartian-themed month or series?
Even Dominic Walsh Dance Theater could have contributed with their extensive repertoire of using his music. I know, wishful thinking. Collaborative work is often the way smaller non-profits thrive. It's much more difficult to get the big giants to embrace it.
Well, there it is.