Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart & Salieri

Back in Moscow, the Gelikon Opera tonight performed Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely-performed one-acter Mozart and Salieri, based on the short story by Pushkin.

Dmitry Skorikov was a serious but troubled Salieri and Vasily Efimov a playful prankster Mozart.  Konstantin Chudovsky conducted a dramatic reading.

Everyone probably knows the basic plot.  The staging was minimal (basically a piano, a small dinner table, candles, wine glasses, and sheet music), but the stage was mostly made from angular reflective black panels, which gave it an other-worldly feel with lighting coming from different directions.  The two characters (Mozart and Salieri, naturally) were dressed in costumes that looked more late-19th century, but the clothing was harmless.

The director took one deviation from the plot.  In the original Rimsky-Korsakov version, the dying Mozart, after drinking the wine Salieri had poisoned, showed Salieri the sketches of his Requiem, which the horrified Salieri began to read as Rimsky-Korsakov quoted Mozart’s actual music.  In this production, they inserted the entire Mozart Requiem into the performance, sung by a chorus of spirits behind a skrim in the back of the stage.  As Salieri read the music, he began to sob uncontrollably about having murdered Mozart, and then went slowly mad.  Mozart’s ghost rose from the piano and taunted Salieri.

On one hand, this deviation worked, since it gave us something to watch during the performance.  It must be remembered, of course, that Mozart died before writing or even sketching much of his Requiem.  The work was mostly composed by Franz Xaver Süßmayr in a Mozartian style based on Mozart’s limited sketches.  The parts composed by Süßmayr are clearly far inferior in quality to the parts composed by Mozart, so this piece can drag on.  So in this respect it was good to have something happening on stage.  On the other hand, unless the performance is spectacular (and the Gelikon orchestra and chorus, though perfectly good, were not at that level) Süßmayr’s Requiem really does drag, and no amount of diversion will save it.

When the Requiem ended, Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera resumed where it had left off.  Salieri emerged from his trance obviously changed by the visions he had just experienced.  Mozart (not dead yet) laughed at him from atop the piano and trotted home.  The horrified Salieri finished the wine left behind in Mozart’s poisoned chalice.

Unfortunately, as Rimsky-Korsakov’s music ended and the distressed Salieri sunk to the floor, the director decided to ruin the mood by using a piped-in recording of Mozart’s Requiem.  Totally unnecessary and bizarre (especially with the orchestra and chorus right there, but with the production already including a complete performance along with extra character-development for Salieri, this last bit was inexplicable).


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