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Canberra Today 13°/15° | Monday, December 4, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Jim’s in the enviable role of the envious Salieri

Jack Shanahan as Mozart, left, with Jim Adamik as Salieri. Photo: Karina Hudson

“AMADEUS” is the story of envious court musician Antonio Salieri, who connives at the downfall of and maybe even poisons Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

That’s complete fiction, of course, but in the hands of British playwright, Peter Shaffer, it made for a rattling good stage play in 1979, followed by a 1984 film directed by Miloš Forman, which won eight Academy Awards.

Now Canberra Rep is staging a new “Amadeus”, directed by Cate Clelland.

Jim Adamik has scored the enviable role of envious Salieri. Shaffer has written Salieri as both narrator of and chief participant in the story, told on the last night of his life.

The play is predicated on the idea that Mozart, chosen by God as the vessel for divine music, was in day-to-day life, a snivelling kid.

What instantly impresses about the play is its sheer theatricality, seen in the device of the narrator who steps in and out of the action and two characters called the “Venticelli”, played by Michael Smith and Justice-Noah Malfitano, represent the citizens of Vienna, who move in social circles and inform Salieri and the audience of what’s going on. 

Adamik sees Salieri as having blocked Mozart from achieving success at court, so that hunger partly drove him to his death, “but with a decent helping from Salieri”.

Adamik knows the difference between stage and film versions, having been captivated by the film when he was an early teenager.

“The play is impressionistic and the film is realistic, but they tell the same story of crazy-mad ambition, set to extraordinary music,” he says. 

“It was made for the theatre, but if you loved the film you’ll love the play, and vice versa.”

Apart from Salieri, there are many memorable characters, Mozart himself, played by Jack Shanahan; his wife Constanze, played by Sienna Curnow and Emperor of Austria Joseph II, Neil McLeod, all genuine historical figures. 

What fascinates Adamik is that Salieri’s belief in God is so strong that he decides to take on the Almighty as an adversary. 

“To believe in this omnipresent being and then make a choice to go to war against him is an extraordinary thing,” he says. 

“He had prayed to God to let him be a composer, wanting to praise him through music, working hard, but instead of God choosing ‘worthy me’, he chose Mozart, a shitty, sniggering fool, and Salieri can’t believe it.”

Like Salieri, Adamik is working hard, exploring a range of emotions from elation to jealousy and despair and perhaps coming close to melodrama, while waking up in the middle of the night thinking of his lines and treating his dog on walks around Cooleman Ridge to a sample recitation.

“This, after all is a play, where I don’t shut up,” he says.

“Amadeus”, Canberra Rep Theatre, Acton, July 27 (preview) to August 12.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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