'Amadeus' is inaccurate yet pleasing

Times Staff Writer

Playwright Peter Shaffer rewrote "Amadeus" five times after the London premiere in 1979. So anyone who saw the original or Milos Forman's Oscar-winning 1984 film version can be forgiven for not recognizing parts of "Amadeus" -- Shaffer's play with Mozart's music -- as presented Thursday by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

Particularly new was the protracted penultimate scene in which composer Antonio Salieri confesses to Mozart that he has poisoned him and asks for forgiveness. Of course, Shaffer was among the first to admit that such a scene -- indeed many of the events in the play depicting Salieri's efforts to destroy Mozart -- never happened. He got the idea from a play by Pushkin that was turned into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov.

But it made for surprisingly good theater, as staged by James Robinson, with Michael York as the much-maligned Salieri, Neil Patrick Harris as the misconstrued child-man Mozart, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Constanze, Mozart's much slandered wife.

York had the lion's share role and executed it with persuasive dignity and stamina. Harris boasted and bumbled nicely. Williams-Paisley came close to making the playwright's incompatible sides of Constanze cohere.

But disregarding the gross historical inaccuracies, what can be said musically in favor of Shaffer's play? It focused attention on the seriousness and intricacy of Mozart's music at a time when many misperceived him as a periwigged figure who wrote a few dark works that anticipated Beethoven and the Romantics.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin, the Philharmonic, soprano Mary Dunleavy and pianist Shai Wosner also did much to dispel that notion. Slatkin led off with a dramatic account of the "Don Giovanni" Overture. Dunleavy sang, among other arias, Pamina's "Ach, ich fuhl's," with poignancy. Wosner breezed through the rondo of the K. 488 Piano Concerto with wit. And members of the wind and brass sections played the heartbreaking Adagio from the "Gran Partita" with loving attention.

In other acting roles, Kevin Bailey and Richard Leighton made fine private spies (Venticelli). Gregory North was the properly pompous, clueless Joseph II, Emperor of Austria.

Shon LeBlanc's costumes were handsome, as were Evan Bartoletti's scenic elements. Diana Martinous teased characters' hair to staggering heights.

Too bad, though, there was so little music and so much play.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World