The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and Players by the Sea theatre company collaborated on the performance of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play “AMADEUS” in the Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts on March 2nd and 3rd.
We have reviewed previous symphony/theatre joint efforts by the Jacksonville Symphony and found them to be extremely well done, resulting in extraordinary evenings of glorious entertainment. This production of “Amadeus” lived up to our highest expectations.
Playwright Peter Shaffer created his interpretation of the intense rivalry between Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, two leading 18th century composers, and took certain liberties with the story that may or may not be true but is nonetheless intriguing. The central character, Salieri is a well-known musician who longs for greatness while tortured by envy. When he encounters Mozart, he finds a boorish, immature potty-mouthed genius enamored with his own talents. Envy leads to malice; the play has Salieri engineering Mozart’s failures and his early death. While speculation on Shaffer’s part, the story has been told before; Alexander Pushkin published a drama in 1830 about the rivalry and its poisonous ending, which was later adapted as an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
While researching the play, it was interesting to note in previous reviews that while the play was universally praised, a constant complaint was the limited use of music. And while some groups have used recordings throughout to enhance the stage action, even this tactic seems like a major omission in a story about two legendary musicians. Here, Jacksonville audiences were treated to something quite spectacular, as the vibrant Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra provided 23 excerpts from some of Mozart’s most famous compositions, including “The Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni”, and “Requiem”. The pieces were augmented by the soaring voices of the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus, with eighty plus members seated high above the orchestra.
On the stage directly in front of Conductor Michael Butterman and the orchestra were eight of Jacksonville’s most accomplished actors who have been on stage at Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach in several shows. Under the direction of Jacksonville native Samuel Fisher, who studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the California Institute of the Arts, the magnificent eight performed to perfection. The set was spread across the stage and consisted of chairs, a table, and a wheelchair for Salieri. There were no walls so the view of the conductor and the orchestra was retained.
Matt Tompkins and Jerald Wheat appeared as The Venticelli “Little Winds”, acting as Salieri’s assistants as well as carriers of gossip and rumors. Evan Gould (Count Orisini-Rosenberg) and T. R. Hainline (Baron Van Swieten) were advisors to Salieri especially in matters of music and Mozart. Joe Walz as the Emperor Joseph II seemed to appreciate music as was expected, but displayed lack of knowledge when commenting on Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” with “It has too many notes!” Kelby Siddons as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s wife, was giddy, lighthearted, and proud.
Erik DeCicco gloriously captured the capricious frenzied temperament of a grand egotist who admittedly was a genius when it came to composing music but was unwise to the ways of the world.
Award-winning actor Bill Ratliff gave a marvelous performance as Salieri, beginning as an old man in a wheel chair who is dying. Mr. Ratliff talks to us in a voice that sounds like death. He then rises and takes us back to his childhood and his deal with God to make him a fine musican. Ratliff has cornered the roles on evil men on local stages over the years and given terrific portrayals in every role. We wanted to consider him as an evil man as Salieri considering his scheming, but looking at his actions, they were in many ways self-preserving, as Mozart wanted his job a court composer and had little concern for Salieri or praise for his talents and compositions.
The costumes designed by the Utah Symphony were a visual delight and took us back to the 18th century, with colors of deep rose and turquoise, rich grays and browns, and lavish amounts of lace.
The collaboration between the Jacksonville Symphony and Players by the Sea created a splendid two hours of inspiring and fine music and exceptional acting; an altogether wonderful blend of wonderful talent.