By Miles Temel ’20
Few New Hampshire residents can claim that on an ordinary Thursday night, they experienced a theater production performed by a world-class London theater company . However, I had exactly that opportunity the evening of February 2 when I joined a Dartmouth students and Hanover residents in the Loew Auditorium in the Hood Museum for a National Theatre Live screening of Peter Shaffer’s iconic play, Amadeus. National Theatre Live is a project by the National Theatre in London to record live shows at the theater and broadcast them to cinemas around the United Kingdom and many other locations internationally–including Hanover. By utilizing a variety of camera angles positioned throughout the theater, NT Live offers viewers a spectacular cinematic experience that retains the magic of live theater.
Since its debut at the National Theatre in 1979, Amadeus won multiple Olivier and Tony Awards, was adapted into a film that would win eight Academy Awards, and has earned the accolades of critics and filmgoers everywhere. The National Theatre’s production, starring the gifted Lucian Msamati as Antonio Salieri and the energetic Adam Gillen as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, does justice to the show’s great legacy. The production dramatizes the relationship between the prodigious composer Mozart and Salieri, his jealous contemporary and the self-proclaimed “Patron Saint of Mediocrities.”
The play opens on an elderly and estranged Salieri. On what he declares to be the last night of his life (for he would later attempt suicide), Salieri wishes to tell his and Mozart’s story, which took place over thirty years earlier. Salieri recalls how at a young age, he offered a bargain to God: he would live his life in service to God in exchange for fame and glory as a composer. As the years went on, it seemed this bargain was being kept, as Salieri taught several promising young pupils and held a prestigious position as court composer for Emperor Joseph II of Austria. He was the premier composer in late 18th-century Vienna, the city of musicians–until Mozart arrived. Salieri was shocked not only at Mozart’s astounding skill as a composer, but at the young man’s lifestyle of wildness and debauchery. Salieri, furious that God had blessed such a vulgar man with talent that was meant for him, promises to exact his revenge on God by destroying Mozart, His great creation.
A unique benefit of the National Theatre Live broadcast of Amadeus was the exclusive footage of the show in its pre-production stages and of interviews with the company. Director Michael Longhurst explained in an interview his goal of intertwining this historically-set production with the modern day. One of his ambitious decisions to achieve this outcome was to place the orchestra on stage in modern clothing and incorporate them into the performance. Longhurst explained that by doing so, he could convey the enduring quality of Mozart’s music. Other subtle touches connecting the show to modern times include the Krispy Kreme doughnut Salieri snacks on to feed his insatiable sweet tooth. In another interview, Gillen described how, to better understand how to portray a composer far ahead of his time, he channeled entertainers such as David Bowie and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols–musicians whose work was revolutionary in their time.
One of the great elements of Amadeus is the play’s universality. Although we in the United States no longer live in a world of court composers and emperors, the underlying motifs of competition and envy are certainly relatable. In an interview, Msamati, who is of African origin, joked that his “chocolatey hue” should not detract from his performance as Salieri because of how relevant Amadeus’ central themes still are. From the tale of Cain and Abel in the first chapters of Genesis to Msamati’s example of competing soccer players in modern times, the story of envy toward an opponent’s success despite one’s apparent mediocrity is certainly as old as time.
This screening of Amadeus offers a prelude to more National Theatre Live broadcasts to come this term. This opportunity to enjoy superb live theater in a wonderful setting and at a reasonable price (discounted tickets for Dartmouth students!) was truly exciting. For a unique experience combining the delight of cinema and the charm of live theater, future National Theatre Live events are not to be missed.
I am a ’20 from Westerly, RI. In addition to being an Arts Ambassador, I am a member of ECO and was recently an assistant stage manager for the fall production of Intimate Apparel. I am considering majoring in Comparative Literature or Environmental Studies.