Vulgarity, insanity, genius: The whirligig of Mozart

MYSTERY commissioner of a requiem. F Murray Abraham is Antonio Salieri in Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus. Photograph courtesy

YOU NEED TO quietly gather your sensibilities when you find yourself in the presence of sheer perfection. Several decades ago, theatre practitioner Margot Luyt directed Peter Shaffer’s enormous Mozartian play, Amadeus. It had been translated into Afrikaans and reworked for radio by Nerina Ferreira. This completely flawless rendition of Shaffer’s linguistic idiosyncrasies in an essay about professional jealousy, madness and the glory of Mozart is easily one of the finest examples of the magic of the theatre of the mind in this country. It’s accessible on RSG’s archives and was rebroadcast in October 2016.

And while you may know the story – popularised as it was on the silver screen in 1984 under the direction of Milos Forman, in this version, it is André Rossouw’s encapsulation of Antonio Salieri, the court composer at the time of Mozart, that is utterly magnificent. Nuanced and evil, yet human and balanced with values of spite and one-upmanship, wallowing in the deliciousness of “the confidential and disgusting”, Salieri is brought to palpable life that is quasi-fictional but 100% compelling. Rossouw’s performance evokes that of Lucian Msamati who you may have recently seen in the National Theatre Live’s version of the work, but stripped of its visual finery, this work is arguably stronger.

Equally gorgeous to the ear and the heart is Shirley Ellis’s representation of Mozart’s young wife, Constanze. She’s a light-hearted and fairly vulgar woman, but one who laughs and succumbs to tickling, as she mourns with a full heart, in a way that will enable you to shed tears for a man who died 230 years ago.

Supported by a superb cast, including Marthinus Basson as a giggling and crude Mozart in the last eight years of his life, and live harpsichord tunes by Albie van Schalkwyk, counterbalanced by bits and pieces of grand Mozart works including The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte and of course the Requiem, this 90 minute foray into 18th century Europe with all its grubby shenanigans and sheer complicated beauty, is just the ticket! It is a rich and authentic piece which will transport you with its narrative lines, its performances and its music.

It is another unstoppable illustration of the value of radio, in our theatre-savvy society that is crumbling as we speak. Find it. Indulge in it. Every delicious moment of it.

  • Amadeus is written by Peter Shaffer. Translated and reworked for Afrikaans radio by Nerina Ferreira, it is directed by Margot Luyt. Featuring technical input and music by Charmaine Ferreira, Sanet Geldenhuys, Allen Rabie and Albie van Schalkwyk, it is performed by Dawie Akerman, Marthinus Basson, Pieter Bredenkamp, Pieter Cilliers, Shirley Ellis, Jan Lombard, Paul Malherbe, Dawid Minnaar, Hermann Pretorius, Johan Rademan and André Rossouw. It draws from RSG’s archives and is available on podcast:

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