In the case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart it is either a smack botty or a maliciously contrived slow death though poverty. According to Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play the composer’s life was ruined by his rival Antonio Salieri – court composer for the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Consequently, Mozart was dead at 35, Salieri went on until 75.
Everything is going well for Salieri in Vienna until the arrival of the ludicrously gifted Mozart, whose musical genius comes wrapped in the lurid package of an Asperger’s punk in pink Doc Martens. Jealousy eats away at Salieri when his light is overshadowed by Mozart’s blazing talent.
The irony is only he can see it – everyone else from the not-too-bright Emperor Joseph (Tom Edden) to the Imperial court’s musical directors feel he is “coming along nicely” but there are “too many notes”. Salieri is a gift of a part and Lucian Msamati grabs it with both hands. Opening in a wheelchair in “the last hour of his life”, he recalls the arrival of the young prodigy in the Viennese Court and the subsequent effects on him and his music. It’s a terrific performance, alert to the sense of inadequacy and roiling jealousy that drives him to ruin his rival while enriching himself.
Tormented by his own mediocrity, he destroys Mozart but it’s a hollow victory; Salieri knows that Mozart will become immortal through his music when his own is long forgotten. Adam Gillen’s Mozart is a human jumping bean, every inch the “sniggering, conceited infantile” creature loathed by Salieri. His leaps on to the piano at one point, playing like an 18th-century Jerry Lee Lewis.
There could be a little more variation in his tone, as it militates against our sympathies, but that is the nature of the role. Director Michael Longhurst brings great fluidity to the stage, which also contains musicians of the Southbank Sinfonia. The integration of Mozart’s music from Don Giovanni to an amazing vision of The Magic Flute is one of the production’s greatest accomplishments. A stonking revival of Shaffer’s play.