The 2017-18 season has been one to remember. Theatreworks moved to a new, state of the art home in the Ent Center, sure to be Colorado Springs’ premiere destination for theatre-lovers for many years to come. We opened the building with a breathtaking gala and the new theater with a sold-out run of Oklahoma! What better way to cap it all off than with Peter Shaffer’s classic Amadeus?
Set in Vienna in the late 18th century, the play tells the story of jealousy, rivalry, passion, and a talent that seems almost divinely inspired. Mozart’s final years as a rising star at court frame a poisonous conflict between he and Antonio Salieri, an aging court composer with a bitter envy for the genius of the ambitious newcomer. Not to worry—Shaffer’s expert balance of drama and levity make for an evening with plenty of light to offset the dark.
The apocryphal legend of Salieri and Mozart’s feud, which gained popularity shortly after Mozart’s death, has inspired writers and artists throughout history. Alexander Pushkin, the revered Russian poet, playwright, and novelist considered by many to be the founder of modern Russian literature, was the first to explore the rumor of the competition’s deadly turn. In 1831, Pushkin published a short verse drama, Mozart and Salieri, one of his four “little tragedies:” short dramas in verse now placed among the masterpieces of Russian literature. In 1898, the great Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov adapted Pushkin’s story into a one-act opera by the same name, whose score incorporated famous melodies from works such as Mozart's Requiem and Don Giovanni.
Nearly a century later, the ever-versatile Peter Shaffer noted the dramatic potential of the famous scandal. Shaffer was, of course, intrigued by the legend that inspired Pushkin and Korsakov before him. But he was also struck by the contrast between the sophisticated formality of Mozart’s music and the irreverence of his letters to friends and family.
In an interview published by The Guardian in 2013, Shaffer expanded on how Mozart’s personality inspired his character in Amadeus: “I came up with the idea for this play after reading a lot about Mozart. 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.”
We see in Mozart’s character the contradiction Shaffer sought to illustrate. In Salieri, we see the struggle and ultimate failure to reconcile mediocrity in the face of genius. By journeying into the aging Salieri’s memory, we experience his anguish as he is eclipsed by Mozart’s seemingly effortless brilliance. Peter Hall, who directed the premier run of Amadeus in 1979 and the revival in 1998, describes Salieri’s turmoil: “By blocking his advancement in court in a thousand different covert ways, [Salieri] makes it impossible for Mozart to live. And by destroying him, he destroys himself, and the genius that the musician in him worships.”
The play’s thrilling storyline and dynamic characters will certainly captivate. The costume and sound design of our production are also not to be missed. The harpsichord, though exquisite, is “played” with sound cues; the instrument itself is not functional. Dialogue merges seamlessly with music, each overlaying and complementing the other during transitions from speech to song.
We recently sat down with Amadeus costume designer and Theatreworks costume shop manager, Stephanie Bradley, for a conversation about costuming for a historical setting. For Bradley, period costumes are a passion: specifically, her interest lies in creating over-the-top pieces full of rich, sumptuous details of the 18th century. Last year, she travelled to the Fashion Museum in Bath, England, for design inspiration, and includes historical paintings and portraits in her research. As you experience Shaffer’s acclaimed work, don’t forget to look closely: it’s all accurate to the period, down to the shoe buckles.
Amadeus is one of those rare works that has it all: a triumph of theatrical energy, music, and passion. We are truly excited to join you in the new Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater for what will be a stunning conclusion to a most extraordinary season.