The Asolo opens with a strong production.
By Kay Kipling
For a theater critic who’s seen it a number of times before, the question rises: Do we really need another production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus? For audience members, who heartily applauded the opening night of the Asolo’s rendition of this play about the imagined rivalry of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporary, Antonio Salieri, the answer may be yes.
And certainly this Amadeus is a strong offering. More than many productions I’ve seen, the work here, directed by new Asolo producing director Michael Donald Edwards, makes the most of the ironic humor in the first half as we get the setup: Salieri (Bryan Torfeh), a man devoted to his God and his music, meets the new wunderkind in town (town being 18th-century Vienna, wunderkind being Mozart, played by Colby Chambers) and promptly realizes he’s got trouble.
And for that first half of the evening, we’re on Salieri’s side. After all, Mozart, teeth flashing as brightly as his compositions, is clearly insufferable. He’s vulgar, immature and more than annoying in his wealth of genius. Since most of us, like Salieri, lack that final quality, we’re rooting for Salieri.
But as Salieri defies God for using Mozart as his conduit, the second half of the play turns tragic. In playwright Shaffer’s clever conceit, it is Salieri who is responsible for Mozart’s fall from grace at court, his increasingly horrific poverty and, ultimately, his early death. And it’s a tribute to Chambers’ work as Mozart that as much as we’ve disliked him earlier, we have an equal amount of compassion for him before play’s end.
Torfeh likewise makes a compelling Salieri. Although in the opening scene, set 30 years after Mozart’s death, he doesn’t seem as old and feeble as the aged Salieri should, he’s in full control of his part otherwise, switching from amusing asides to the audience to counterfeit affection for his rival to shattering anger at his Creator with conviction. The supporting cast is largely well chosen; the sets and costumes (as one expects when the Asolo does period pieces) excellent; and overall Amadeus is a propitious debut for the Asolo’s new artistic head.
Amadeus plays in rotating repertory on the Asolo mainstage through March 7; for tickets call 351-8000.