Tucked away on the corner of Phoenix Street, off Charing Cross Road, the Phoenix Artist Club hosts the intimate and relaxed setting for a story about the well-known, infamous rivalry of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.
Adapted from the short play, Mozart and Salieri by Pushkin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s one-act opera charts the highs and lows of the tense, competitive relationship of the two composers. The first scene begins with Nick Dwyer, as Salieri, enjoying an elevated status in society owing to his occupation as court composer. However it is clear through Dwyer’s facial expressions and sharp tone of voice that he, secretly, or evidently to the audience, loathes the fact that Mozart’s music succeeds his in popularity. The jealous nature of Salieri’s character is perhaps the most memorable facet of the play. It is similarly explored in great lengths in Shaffer’s famous stage play Amadeus. In both productions, Salieri detests how a character of such ‘idleness’ in the form of Mozart, could be so gifted in the eyes of god.
I thought Dwyer’s performance as Salieri was memorable, he certainly nailed the pompous, internal arrogance that Salieri radiates, as well as the mature, experienced coolness. His voice is particularly strong and resonant; this enhances his performance as the audience find Salieri is in full control of the narrative. The skill of singing in this production was overall extremely impressive. Throughout the piece the timing was maintained between accompanist and singers, and this reflected a well-rehearsed, skilfully performed piece of opera.
The second scene saw Salieri inviting Mozart, played with a boyish naivety and confidence by Roger Paterson, to dine with him. However, it was clear that Mozart’s conscience is preoccupied by the ominous foreboding of the ‘shadow in black’ who demands a requiem from him. This moment is a particular strength in Paterson’s performance; the eerie quality with which he imbued his voice captured the fear and terror of Mozart after being visited by a paranormal presence. Yet, this is not before the requiem is played – both by accompanist and Paterson himself, aloud to the audience. This was effective in cementing the torment and anguish Salieri felt as he hears the beautiful music Mozart was able to create so casually and modestly. It is interesting that director Pamela Schermann chose to stage this in a way that brought the accompanist fully into the opera, as opposed to being an external on-looker, thus breaking the fourth wall and in turn making the characters more relatable.
I really enjoyed the crime-thriller tension of the piece. The final moments involved Salieri pouring poison into Mozart’s glass and Mozart leaving, unwell and confused. I thought the fact that Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera left the fate of Mozart unsealed was intriguing, only adding fuel to the fire that is the mysterious case of Mozart’s death and whether Salieri did indeed, as rumours may have it, poison Mozart.
In a production which was led by strong, believable performances, I did feel confused as to the decision to clothe Salieri in a modern-day lounge suit, while Mozart was in eighteenth-century clothing, complete with wig and frills. Perhaps this could have been an attempt to bridge the gap between modern and past? Or maybe an effort to place the classical music and elaborate epoch within a familiar, up-to-date setting? Either way it left me personally confused as to its intention. Nevertheless, the opera’s focus on the personalities and characters of these lovable, watchable and fascinating ‘frenemies’ made for an entertaining performance.
Mozart and Salieri is playing at the Phoenix Artist Club until 23 April. For more information and tickets see Phoenix Artist Club website.
Photo: Time Zone Theatre