Theatre review: Amadeus, Sydney Opera House

An almost successful fusion of fashion, theatre and music in the reimagination of the lives of Salieri and Mozart.

A fresh rendition of Amadeus from Red Line Productions and Sydney Opera House attempts to seamlessly fuse fashion, theatre, architecture and music – and it almost succeeds. Despite the extraordinary talent involved and power of playwright Peter Shaffer’s words, execution on opening night offered spectacle over an enticing journey through the ugliest parts of humanity.

A central theme to Shaffer’s Amadeus is the curse of self-acknowledged mediocrity. Michael Sheen’s performance of the embittered Salieri is anything but mediocre. Having previously played Salieri’s competition, Mozart, in 1998 (Old Vic), Sheen brings nuanced execution and flawless comedic timing. 

Rahel Romahn skilfully transitions Mozart from a boyish prodigy to a man with a tortured and decaying mind. His work is aided by guidance from Movement Director Samantha Chester. There is particular power in flicks of the hand and a lean in Romahn’s shoulders – signs of a mind trying to hold strong as illness consumes the body.

Lily Balatincz brings strength as Constanze Mozart. She finds vulnerability amid financial hustles, juvenile sexcapades and a fight to see her husband respected.

Costuming is likewise extraordinary. Award-winning Anna Cordingley collaborates with Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born to create a playful homage to the traditional frocks of the Habsburg Court. It’s a smorgasbord of whimsy and delight, complemented by audience members dressed as instructed for the theme of the night: ‘frills and thrills’.

Set design from Michael Scott-Mitchell is effective and aided by Nick Schlieper’s lighting design, though there are some sightline issues and downstage lighting on actors occasionally seems unnecessarily harsh.

Program notes describe this Amadeus as ‘the perfect spectacle … to welcome audiences back to the newly renovated Concert Hall during the Opera House’s 50th anniversary celebrations’. And with The Metropolitan Orchestra and opera singers in the ensemble, the production should offer an auditory feast. Yet the use of a live orchestra seemingly has the unintended consequence of requiring actors to wear body mics. 

Actors’ volume levels were set too high on opening night, resulting in a two hours and 50 minutes barrage of sound, robbing the audience of both the acoustics of the renovated space and the subtleties of layered performances.

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Particularly jarring is Balatincz’s supposedly quiet and desperate pleas to Mozart over ‘Lacrimosa’ from Requiem Mass, with her tenderness eclipsed by audio imbalance. 

We are left to merely intellectualise emotional journeys, rather than feel the bodily grief, envy, turmoil and rage that a live production of Amadeus should offer. 

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

Writer: Peter Shaffer
Director: Craig Ilott
Set Design: Michael Scott-Mitchell
Lighting Design: Nick Schlieper
Costume Direction: Romance Was Born
Costume Designer: Anna Cordingley
Musical Director and Conductor: Sarah-Grace Williams
Movement Director: Samantha Chester
Sound Designer: Tony David Cray
Musical Arranger: Ryan Youens
Voice and Dialect Coach: Danielle Roffe
Resident Director: Anni Finsterer

Tickets: from $75

Amadeus will be performed at Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House until 21 January 2023.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.