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KMH audience warms, eventually, to ICTC/BPO’s AMADEUS

THE BASICS:  AMADEUS, an adaptation of the play by Peter Shaffer, is co-presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, starring Vincent O’Neill and PJ Tighe, along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta. It opened Friday, January 20, continues this Saturday January 21 at 8:00 p.m. and closes Sunday, the 22nd at 2:30. All performances are at Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle (885-5000). Runtime is 2-1/2 hours with one 15 minute intermission. Full service bar and snacks, and $2 candy sold as BPO fundraisers. www.bpo.org for tickets and www.irishclassicaltheatre.com for information.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  With a Mozart-sized (smaller) Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and 12-person chorus as backdrop on the huge stage of Kleinhans, the Irish Classical Theater Company bravely attempts to present an adaptation of the original 1981 Tony Award winning play about the envy which the very successful Viennese court composer Antonio Salieri felt towards the impudent, potty-mouthed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In this highly-fictionalized account of history, Salieri is seen to plot and seduce at every turn to ruin Mozart’s career, driving the younger, but more talented composer, to desperate poverty and an early grave.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: In a conversation with the ICTC’s Artistic Director (playing Salieri) Vincent O’Neill and the ICTC’s Managing Director (who directed the play) Fortunato Pezzimenti, the two explained that there are challenges when taking a play that ICTC last offered in 2005 in the very intimate 24 x 24 foot Andrews Theatre and putting it up on the 68-foot-wide platform of Kleinhans Music Hall.

First, there is the problem of sets. Kleinhans has no proscenium, no curtain, no flies to raise and lower backdrops, etc. It’s just one huge platform and it’s hard to fill it.  Props that would fill up the Andrews looked lost. And, despite the legendary acoustics of the Saarinen-designed Kleinhans Music Hall, the actors would have to wear microphones. This was a problem in that Salieri’s mic created an echo in the balcony that was distracting.

After seeing the play, other problems became clear. One was a lack of intimacy. Nothing is more intimate than a camera, which can be positioned inches from an actor, and so the 1984 Oscar-winning film AMADEUS (starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce) was very compelling. Also, in the movie, the music was much more coordinated with the lines and the action. And, my memory of being at the Andrews (admittedly over ten years ago) is that the play is also a very intimate portrayal. At Kleinhans, that just wasn’t the case.

The other problem, as alluded to, is that at Kleinhans we got short bursts of music, incidental to the action, but my memory of the 2005 production and the movie is that the music is constantly there, underneath. And, there is one famous scene early on that just fell short. In this moment Salieri experiences cognitive dissonance as he tries to reconcile the obscene adolescent behavior of Mozart the man with the glory of the adagio movement of Mozart’s “Gran Partita” where, over a halting orchestral rhythm “like a rusty squeezebox” the oboe plays an beautiful arching line. This scene is the synopsis of the entire play, the moment where Salieri first realizes that, despite his playing by the rules, God has graced “the creature” with superior, indeed sublime talent. Salieri is envious, true, but he also feels betrayed, that God has dispensed His favors unfairly.  And, it is the point at which Salieri first contemplates revenge.

So what happened? First, in this adaptation of the play, the action feels so paired down that everything seems rushed and this scene seems to come “too early.” Then, there was a disconnect between Salieri describing what he’s hearing with what we in the audience are hearing. The time to mention the clarinet (which picks up the melody from the oboe) is when the clarinet is actually playing, not after.

Another musical problem is that the orchestra, instead of playing constantly under the action, has to sit there for long periods of time, and when they finally get to play, there were intonation problems for the first several measures. I’m not sure why. While there were subs, there were many more “A-list” players on stage than expected for this “one off” production.

And, another problem unique to this night is that the high school group which performed in the Mary Seaton Room before the show was given, as is customary, seats in the upper balcony. Usually the young people from the various schools around WNY display the best concert etiquette, but on this night, where were the chaperones?  This group chatted and fidgeted all evening and it was almost non-stop in the second act.

On the other hand, the 12 singers from the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus (3 each S-A-T-B) and from their ranks the three soloists, Sarabeth Matteson, Daniel Johnson, and Kevin Cosbey were more than up to the task. Brava, Bravo, and Bravi.

And, the second act did seem more cohesive than the first. Perhaps we were more in tune with the characters, perhaps the actors were over their first night jitters, perhaps it just has a better dramatic arc.  In the end, the audience gave the performance hearty applause.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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