Mozart and Salieri – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Composer/Libretto: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Musical Director: Andrew Charity

Stage Director: Pamela Schermann

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Tonight’s performance, another first for the Old Joint Stock Theatre (OJS), reaffirms their ‘reverse-Tardis’ ethos – small on the inside/big thinking outside the box. London-based Time Zone Theatre, renowned for their eclectic and derring-do repertoire, premiere this seven venue tour at the OJS closing with an August home run of five nights at the Bridewell Theatre, London.

Rimsky-Korsakov drew heavily from Alexander Pushkin’s eponymous short story for the libretto of this two-act opera set in late 18th century Vienna. Classified as Russian Romanticism with an emphasis on realism, realistically it is as about as romantic as Doctor Faustus, Dorian Grey and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in its study of obsessional desire, jealousy and self-destruction. Nevertheless, for many, tonight’s performance resonates with fond recollections of Peter Shaffer’s 1984 film adaptation of his award-winning drama, the fast and loose alt.Baroque barnstormer, Amadeus.

In this new English translation featuring two voices, piano and viola, we are drawn into the ever darkening and vice-like, in both senses, tortured, paranoid psyche of Salieri. Once content with his celebrated gifts, now he declaims, ‘I am an envier – profoundly. Where is rightness when the sacred gift casts its light upon a madman’s head, an idle loafer’s brow…Mozart!’

Baritone Nick Dwyer, rakish with designer stubble and Adonian chiseled profile, assumes the agonised persona of Salieri. Sipping a tepid glass of champagne, he laments his fate as pianist and musical director, Andrew Charity, with viola, Nina Kopparhed, immerse themselves in the economic but consuming score. Confessional, climactic, this is intimate, close encountered opera. It’s cosy – it’s totally opera fan-fruity. Off stage, Tenor Roger Paterson, reads over Mozart’s enchanting letter to his wife, Maria Constanze, effusing with delight about the premiere of Don Giovanni. He then enters distributing personalised fliers – much to Salieri’s disgust. Such anachronisms are teasingly forgivable – an iPhone video of a blind beggar fiddler slaughtering voi che sapete? Wolfie giggles and howls, Salieri grimaces and despairs.

Come Act Two, the die is cast, one of the cast must die. Salieri convinces himself that Mozart’s genius is beyond his deserving. Drops from his fatal phial of poison swirl within the toasting glasses of champagne Salieri offers his doomed friend. But what of this ominous dark stranger who has commissioned the deadliest of all Requiems?

A moment of exquisite drama, an embracing tableau of time-frozen intimacy occurs when Paterson shuffles himself between the musicians and plays right-hand lead on fragmentary riffs from the Requiem. All the while his eyes transfixed upon his jealous guy nemesis – Salieri. Morituri te salutant.

The post-interval programme features A Night In Vienna, a Mozart-Medley and a libretto by Pamela Schermann promising an entangled web of love, affairs and intrigues. Nice and naughty. A night of decadent delight.

Reviewed on 25 March 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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