Did composer Antonio Salieri murder his rival Wolfgang Mozart? That depends on your definition of murder.
"Amadeus," the 1980 Tony Award-winning play by Peter Shaffer now showing at Camelot Theatre, is a mesmerizing tour de force as Salieri recounts his systematic destruction of Mozart's career, reputation and health — only to find himself damned in the process.
Director Livia Genise has cast two actors who more than meet the challenges of this piece of theater. Paul R. Jones plays Salieri, and for nearly three hours he is at center stage, both as aged narrator and malevolent participant. His Salieri is by turns penitent, angry, sly and importuning. Jones seems to have totally internalized the role; he never once makes a false step. It is an incredibly demanding piece of theater, and Jones is extraordinary.
Southern Oregon University student Max Gutfreund provides the matching dramatic arc as the young Mozart. We see the character change from a rude, impetuous young adult to a sick, delusional man who believes he has lost everything. Gutfreund begins by romping around the stage, chasing his future wife Constanze (Grace Peets), braying laughter and hurling insults. As he matures, he understands that he is no longer an idolized child and that his actions have professional consequences.
Shaffer's play is based on the widespread rumor of the time that Salieri poisoned Mozart. In late 18th-century Vienna, Salieri's music set the fashion. He was court composer, presenting sacred music as well as opera. Mozart was the interloper, and his compositions made earlier work sound staid and boring. Salieri did, in fact, do everything he could to keep Mozart's music from being performed.
Shaffer's "Amadeus" takes the story further. Salieri has consecrated his work to the glory of God, certain he'll speak through his music. When Salieri hears Mozart's music, he realizes that God's voice, instead, is speaking through a boorish child. A bitter Salieri vows to have his vengeance by destroying God's instrument.
Shaffer's play brackets this excruciating tale with touches of broad humor.
Genise does a fine job of molding the rest of the supporting roles into three-dimensional characters. Jack Seybold is memorable as Emperor Joseph, with his affectation for French phrases and his dismissal of awkward situations with a "Well, there it is" and a graceful exit. Ric Hagerman offers a sour Count von Strack, dismissing Mozart's music as "too many notes." David Dials is Baron von Swietan, stubbornly wedded to all things German, and Buzz London is Count Orsini-Rosenberg, equally wedded to all things Italian.
Peets plays a lovely, earnest Constanze.
The spare but elegant set was designed by Roy Von Rains Jr. Lush period costumes were coordinated by Tina Skaletsy with marvelously apt wigs provided by Virginia Carol Hudson. Music adviser Kendra Taylor identified the scripted music excerpts and provided the edits. Sound and video designer Brian O'Connor did the innovative video projections.
So, did Salieri really murder Mozart? We'll never know. Ironically, Shaffer's play rescues Salieri and his mediocre music from obscurity, courtesy of Mozart's fame. That, perhaps, is Mozart's final revenge.
"Amadeus" plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, at 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 24. For tickets and information, call 541-535-5250 or see www.camelottheatre.org.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.