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THEATER REVIEW: “Amadeus” gets a sumptuous production at Old Globe

Don’t believe everything you see in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” – just enjoy it for what it is, an entertaining but fictionalized story of music, professional jealousy, the price of bucking trends and death.

Adrian Noble directs “Amadeus” through Sept. 22 as part of the annual Old Globe Shakespeare Festival.

Mozart’s early demise (at 35) inspired rumormongering about its cause. There were whispers of foul play including poison, and one of the names mentioned was Antonio Salieri, court musician to Emperor Joseph II of Austria.

“Amadeus” opens on the eve of Salieri's death, when he invites us to hear his deathbed confession – or, as he puts it, his last composition, titled “The Death of Mozart, or, Did I Do it?”

The simple answer is no, at least not directly. But Salieri (Miles Anderson) does cop to immense professional jealousy. After all, he was a mediocre musical talent whose only goal was to be a great musician. He worked hard at his craft and became popular – and favored by the Emperor – by turning out the style of music in vogue at the time.

But he heard true greatness in 1781 from the mind of a skinny, brash young man with a high, squeaky voice, a maniacal laugh and the manners of an untrained puppy.

This was the 25-year-old Mozart (Jay Whittaker), obviously loved of God as his middle name implies, and Salieri realized immediately that his beef was not with the young genius, but with the God who allowed Salieri to attain no more than mediocrity.

He couldn’t do much about God, but Salieri did have sufficient pull with the court to make sure Mozart did not get certain jobs and commissions, which likely made him prey to poor health. It is thought that he actually died of rheumatic fever.

The Old Globe has mounted a sumptuous production, made visually more splendid by Deirdre Clancy’s gorgeous costumes and Alan Burrett’s lighting design.

Anderson is excellent as the jealousy-ridden footnote to musical history. Whether agonizing, plotting, raging or dissimulating, Anderson is in control of the character and the play, since “Amadeus” is in essence an extended monologue punctuated by illustrative action.

Props go to Jay Whittaker also, for the self-control to be only as over-the-top as the script requires as Mozart, a role which invites excess.

Corbett makes a fetching Constanze (Mozart’s wife); Donald Carrier is fine is the musically unsophisticated emperor; and his three suits are nicely played by Charles Janasz, Anthony Cochrane and Michael Stewart Allen.

Though the play suffers a bit from undue length and the reliance on too much narration, Anderson and the cast carry it well and the production does the rest.

The details

“Amadeus” plays in rotation with “The Tempest” and “Much Ado About Nothing” through Sept. 22 at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage, The Old Globe, as part of the Shakespeare Festival.

For tickets call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.