Prefix: “Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned. Living in Prague for three years, I’ve never watched Milos Forman’s “Amadeus”.
“Salieri”. The violins cry out. “Salierisalierisalieri”. Flutes whistle. “SALIERI”. Trumpets rage. The chaos of sound breaks out on stage of the National Theatre, at the production of Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus”. 21-century based, black-clad Southabank Sinfonia orchestra gossips, whispers and spreads, perhaps, one of the most famous myths in human history: Did Antonio Salieri poison Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?
Elderly Salieri (Brilliant Lucian Msamati) himself makes a confession to us, the audience, Ghosts of the Future, the God, performing his last composition entitled “The Death of Mozart”. Taking his lead, the orchestra burst into sound.
We enter the 18th century Vienna, seeing the world through Salieri’s eyes. Most importantly, the audience perceives Mozart (Amazing Adam Gillen) the way Salieri does: as a ridiculously infantile and spoiled man-child, incapable of behaving at court and taking care of himself. Yet he is talented. He is Amadeus, bearing the love of God, who Salieri passionately believes in: “It seemed to me I had heard a voice of God – and that it issued from a creature whose own voice I had also heard – and it was the voice of an obscene child!”
Salieri is angry and frustrated. At God, who has betrayed his devotion, not giving the composer’s love back. Kneeling before the audience, Salieri wages the war at God through his preferred Creature – Mozart. But God is not THE God here. I am the God. And you are. The audience is the God. We are Ghosts of the Future, who remember Mozart’s genius, carrying his legacy through centuries. And what of Salieri? He is nearly forgotten.
The play’s underlying theme is remembrance. Memory is selective. Especially collective memory of the whole humanity. Only the names of a chosen few are remembered through centuries. And isn’t music one of the best conduits of memory? “We took unremarkable men: usual bankers, run-of-the-mill priests, ordinary soldiers and statesmen and wives – and sacramentalized their mediocrity!” proclaims Salieri. “The savour of their days remains behind because of us, our music still remembered while their politics are long gone.”
“And who, I wonder, in your generations, will immortalize you?”
Salieri’s questions rings in my ears. I often think about it. What, indeed, would be left of us? Of our generation of over-consumption and hyper-information? How would selective tradition work with the clutter of Instagram selfies, fake news and fast food music? What would our children remember: Kardashians or Ai Weiwei, thousands of sound-alike pop singers or Max Richter?
Salieri found a way to leave his trace in history. He is remembered – if not in fame, then infamy. In “Amadeus” Salieri himself spreads the rumours of him poisoning Mozart, so that his name would always be mentioned alongside that of a genius. “For the rest of time whenever men say Mozart with love, they will say Salieri with loathing! I am going to be immortal after all! And He is powerless to prevent it!”
Can you imagine Mozart without Salieri now? Genius without mediocrity?
“Mediocrities everywhere – now and to come – I absolve you all. Amen!”
Photos by Marc Brenner