Our intrepid reporters Gail Burns and Larry Murray saw Amadeus on May 6, 2012 at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY. This is the discussion they had about the performance.
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Gail Burns: Larry this one is in your ballpark. I know American musical theatre, but you know classical music. Amadeus has been around since 1979, but I had not seen a production or the 1984 film version. I knew it was about the rumored rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Antonio Salieri (1750-1825). Salieri was by far the more famous during Mozart’s lifetime and was already the court composer for Austrian Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) when the two met.
Larry Murray: There is much talk of Amadeus not being an accurate historical play, and the scholars will warn you away from taking it literally. But it does have historical roots in the relationship between the composers. Salieri was a gifted composer, and all you have to do is listen to Cecilia Bartoli recording of many of his arias to see that Salieri was one of the greats. The problem is that when the sun is out, you are blinded by it, and you can’t see the stars. Mozart was the sun that eclipsed Salieri by the sheer force of his brilliance.
Gail: I was impressed with the brilliance of Peter Shaffer’s script. This is a very good play, and sadly we agreed that Jeannine Haas’ direction of this production at Hubbard Hall did not serve it as well as it could have. You never know how the audience and acting spaces will be organized at the Hall from production to production. Haas had the actors on the stage and on a wide swath of floor directly in front with a connecting ramp and staircases. The audience would have been on three sides of the floor space, only at the Sunday matinee we attended there was no one sitting in the side sections so we saw it as a fourth wall production.
I liked both John Hadden, Artistic Director of the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall (TCHH), as Salieri, and Miles Mandewelle as Mozart, but you had reservations about Hadden’s performance?
Larry: John Hadden has a tough acting job since he is the sensible one on stage in the expository sections, and the conniving manipulator of Mozart’s fortunes. His performance was fine, but I had hoped for a reading more in keeping with the playwright’s contention that he was being driven crazy with guilt. Miles Mandwelle’s role as Mozart simply outshined him on stage, just as in history.
Gail: We agreed that Betsy Holt was luminous as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s wife, and were happy to see Scott Renzoni and Erin Ouellette making their Hubbard Hall debuts as the two Venticelli or “Little Winds: Purveyors of information, gossip, and rumor.”
Which brings us to our favorite piece of Haas’ staging, the silhouettes of the cast representing all Vienna gossiping at the top of the show. “Did he do it?” What do you think? DID Salieri have anything at all to do with Mozart’s early death?
Larry: The idea that Salieri was a Machiavellian genius bent on Mozart’s extinction was written down by Alexander Pushkin, in an 1830 play called “Mozart and Salieri”. Pushkin, for the most part, ignores the real history of Mozart and Salieri and instead uses them as prototypes. You know the saying, never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
There we have it. Which of course brings up the Emperor Joseph II whose lines often included “So there it is” and “Uh…huh”. In fact, that part of the play is pretty close to accurate, he did indeed say that a lot, along with the other oft quoted line of “too many notes!” The many notes criticism is not a wholly inaccurate summary of Mozart’s tendency towards florid and multi-dimensional musical writing. It was the basis of his genius.
Gail: I am a big fan of Doug Ryan and have enjoyed his performances in a wide variety of roles over the years – from the title role in The Elephant Man to a giant lizard in Albee’s Seascape. I liked him here as the Emperor, but you quibbled with his reading of that signature line “So there it is”?
Larry: I am guilty of having the motion picture delivery of that line in my head. Doug Ryan was great at the Emperor Joseph II but those lines should be hit a little harder since they are sort of a running joke. The courtly Joseph was actually quite knowledgeable musically.
He was consulted about the controversial “ballet” which almost got “Marriage of Figaro” banned from the stage but that element is based on a historical incident, as is Mozart’s coarse and obscene talk. Wolfie had a computer-like memory so he could instantly recall music, turn words and notes on their head and backwards in an instant. We meet that Mozart in this Cohoes production. We are fortunate that there is a three volume set of letters of Mozart and his family, including one in which there is an eyewitness account of his death.
Gail: TCHH never has a big production budget, but I thought Sherry Recinella’s costumes and John Fowler’s wigs were lovely. Even if everything else was fairly bare-bones, those two elements really set the style and period of the production.
I don’t own any 18th century fashions so I went quite demurely clad in denim, but you still felt my floral print blouse was a little loud, and then I acquired that fluffy pink scarf…
Larry: You have made me aware of fashion once again, something I have successfully ignored for a decade, ask anyone. (Chortle)
Gail: One of the delightful aspects of our trip was having time to visit some of the excellent shops in Cambridge, New York, including The Village Store actually located in the ground floor of the Hubbard Hall building, and the amazing Battenkill Books which you just loved.
Larry: Yes, it had one of the best selections of well chosen volumes I have encountered in a modest sized shop. Next time we should give one of their local restaurants a try., don’t you think?
Gail: There are some great places there. Back in the winter TV chef Gordon Ramsay filmed an episode at the Cambridge Hotel (1885), home of Pie a la Mode. I’ve eaten there in the past and would love to go back and see what changes Ramsay wrought. I think I’ll do lunch there when I go up for the Cambridge Valley Balloon Festival June 1-3.
Gail adds a historical note about Hubbard Hall and the Cohoes Music Hall
Gail: Last weekend we saw great shows in two of our regions’ most historic and architecturally interesting 19th century music halls. The Cohoes Music Hall (1874) is a classic of the urban style, and Hubbard Hall (1878) is typical of the small, wood construction music halls which were the center of cultural life in just about every town at that period. It is now the last one left standing in Washington County. Both feature the stage upstairs with retail space at street level, which is a model to which architects are returning in the 21st century as we struggle to revitalize downtowns. The 19th century idea of transporting the entertainment to the people, rather than the less energy efficient 20th century model of moving the people to the entertainment, is also working well in Berkshire County at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington and the Colonial in Pittsfield.
Larry: Cheap oil gave birth to our mobility and changed everything. I bet we will see other changes in the coming decade as people’s social lives are further influenced by the social media, and the beaming of live performances to well equipped movie theatres make high class opera, theatre and dance available to just about everyone at their local movie house and at an affordable price. Yet I believe nothing will ever replace live actors, on stage, or live music with an audience of friends and neighbors.
Amadeus, presented by The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, May 4-27, 2012, Directed by Jeannine Haas. Cast: John Hadden, Miles Mandwelle, Betsy Holt, Doug Ryan, Robert Forgett, Sylvia Bloom, Reg Jones, Erin Ouellette, Scott Renzoni, Catherine Seeley, Deb Borthwick, Myka Plunkett, David Borthwick. Hubbard Hall is located at 25 East Main Street in Cambridge, NY. Box Office: 518-677-2495.