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Folger’s ‘Amadeus’ Dramatizes Power of Music

Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, playing at the Folger Shakespeare Theater delights and shocks the audience while reminding them of the power of music. Transporting the audience back to a world enriched with luxurious clothes and vast concert halls, Amadeus tells the tale of composer Antonio Salieri (Ian Merrill Peakes), who is filled with jealousy over the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Salieri makes a bargain with God, devoting himself to a life of faith in order to become a great and famous composer. Mozart, however, is an immature, vulgar young man whose musical gifts appear to be unlimited. While Salieri toils for his success, Mozart’s beautiful music seems effortless.

Salieri rises quickly in the world of music, but realizes the far superiority of Mozart’s music, which he calls the ‘voice of God.’ He wages a war with God through Mozart for giving the greater musical gifts to someone who was so sinful.

Ian Merrill Peakes never left the stage through the course of the play. Still, he transitioned seamlessly from an old, withered Salieri confessing his wrongs, to a young and calculating Salieri slowly plotting the demise of Mozart. Peakes has long been a favorite at the Folger, most recently appearing in Davenant’s Macbeth in September 2019. In Amadeus, Peakes is bolstered by Samuel Adams as Mozart and Lilli Hokama as Constanze, Mozart’s wife.

The Emperor, surrounded by the court, gives his opinion of Mozart’s opera— too many notes. Photo: Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Theatre
Antonio Salieri (Ian Merrill Peakes) is flanked by his two Venticelli, or “Little Winds” (Amanda Bailey and Louis Butelli). Photo: Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Theatre

Scenic Designer Tony Cisek, Costume Designer Mariah Anzaldo Hale and Sound Designer Sharath Patel bring the world of 17th century Vienna alive. The actors swirl across the stage in luxurious, elegant costumes, twisting between the stunning gold violin strings that stretch from floor to ceiling. The strings sometimes appear to be shimmering columns in a concert hall, and other times appear as jail bars trapping Salieri inside of his own mind.

Music is ever-present throughout the play, accenting anger, encouraging laughter and soothing pain. The play induces awe of music through the character’s reverence and the pieces themselves.

As actor Louis Butelli, who plays one of the Venticelli in Amadeus said, “[i]f you are in any way a fan of Mozart and his music, which is some of the finest music every written. If indeed you are a fan of live theater, performed at one of the best theaters in the nation, you got to come and see Amadeus at the Folger.”

Get tickets and learn more at www.folger.edu or call (202) 544-7077.

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