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BPO and Irish Classical Theatre create mad romp with "Amadeus"

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Irish Classical Theatre are teaming up for a production, with music, of Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus."

It's a mad romp.

The performance Friday drew a good-sized crowd, all ages. You could tell it would be quite the event, and it was.

Vince O'Neill plays Antonio Salieri, and PJ Tighe portrays Mozart. Both seem to relish their roles.

The Philharmonic, too, seemed to relish its role. For all Mozart's fame, we hear his music all too rarely in the concert hall. He is eclipsed by later composers, who wrote for bigger orchestras.

All the pieces were in place for a fine production. And it had its high points. You couldn't help but laugh at Mozart's irreverence. Salieri got in some great one-liners.

There are some great shards of truth in this fictionalized drama. The Emperor Joseph II really did say to Mozart, "Too many notes." And Mozart really did shoot back: "Exactly as many, Your Majesty, as are necessary."

But this production had its faults.

Maybe because of union rules, the play seems to have been abridged. Years flew past. One minute Mozart was courting his future wife, Constanze. The next minute, he had written the Requiem. The action seemed compressed, and grew confusing.

Mozart's music was, for the most part, given short shrift. The slow movement from the 23rd Piano Concerto – some of the most haunting music ever written for piano – was lost in the shuffle, as actors talked over it. Two exquisite scenes from Mozart opera – the forgiveness scene from "The Marriage of Figaro" and the magic bells sequence from "The Magic Flute" – likewise were gone in a flash, cheaply treated.

So broad was the comedy that the soul of the drama disappeared. Sort of like on the History Channel, things were oversimplified. We heard a lot about the Masons, which Mozart joined, but almost nothing about the Catholic Church, a far more important force in his life.

And as for Salieri, he was too comic from the beginning. You never got a sense for his deep feelings.

There is a spellbinding moment in the movie in which Salieri discovers Mozart's music, and grasps its greatness. He hears the beautiful Wind Serenade, K. 361, and describes its beauty in wrenching, vivid terms.

That scene was included in this stage version, but for whatever reason, it didn't resonate. Was the music too rushed? Was O'Neill's timing off? I don't know. All I know is that when you hear this, the world should stand still. And in this case, it didn't.

All this isn't to say that people won't like it. It's a romp, as I said, and there's a lot to laugh at.

It's also worth being there just to hear the music. The first movement of the "Prague" Symphony," how often do you get to hear that live? It's magnificent, and the BPO and Music Director JoAnn Falletta played it with great spirit.

Not only that, but before the play is over, you get to hear the first movement from the Symphony No. 40 and the mind-boggling last movement from the Symphony No. 41, the "Jupiter." I had to miss that music because of my deadline, but I imagine it was great. Again it's all too rare to hear this music live.

There are two more performances, at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

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