Mozart and Salieri
Review by Sarah Tinsley
The Phoenix Artist Club is a charming little venue, below street level, which makes it all the more cosy. Centre stage are two chairs facing each other and a crisp white tablecloth. This sets the stage for Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, Mozart and Salieri, based on the apocryphal legend that Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart out of jealousy for his prodigious talent.
What this setting gives the performance is a delightful intimacy. Nick Dwyer’s powerful baritone (Salieri) was addressed to the man who happened to be sitting next to him on a bar stool, after which he went for a wander among the rest of the audience. Mozart skips in to show him some awful performance he’s heard recently, and promptly gets out his phone and shows it to him. I’m not sure I’ve heard the phrase ‘put away your phone’ delivered in an operatic performance before. All of these elements lend the performance a touchingly personal quality, which is very endearing. The pensive Salieri muses over the sacrifice and hardship he has endured to secure his success, while the frivolous Mozart seems unencumbered, laughing about his achievements and making light of their art.
In the later, fateful, meeting, Salieri allows his jealousy to consume him and decides the world would be a better place for all if it wasn’t so eclipsed by the brilliance of Mozart. Nick Dwyer’s performance is full of gravity, his impressive range and vibrato filling the entire space. While Roger Paterson provided a good counterpoint as Mozart, I didn’t feel he quite matched up to the vocal excellence of his opposite.
It’s a quirky and engaging performance, which not only provokes questions at the true nature of Mozart’s death, but also gives an interesting window into the sensibilities of the time. The men are consumed with their music, how nothing would get done in the world if everyone were similarly obsessed with art. They also, perhaps most interestingly, talk about the idea of genius, and if it is synonymous with goodness and virtue, or if the hand that can produce something beautiful can also commit foul deeds. While the ending is a little abrupt, we are nonetheless left with this poignant question before being released back out into the modern world. An entertaining and thought-provoking window into another world.