Folger Theatre’s production of Amadeus has been rehearsing throughout October, but director Richard Clifford‘s relationship with the play stretches far beyond that. He took the time to answer some quick questions about his history with Peter Shaffer’s musical masterwork and what’s in store for the Folger stage.
What attracted you to directing Amadeus at Folger Theatre?
I have had the privilege of working with the Folger Consort (Measure+Dido) and directing plays at Folger Theatre (Mary Stuart), and Amadeus is a wonderful opportunity to direct a play and have the most wonderful score to work with as well. The best of both worlds! Plus, I have a splendid cast to work with headed by Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri.
You acted in the play at Chichester and worked with Peter Shaffer. Can you talk about what your experience was like on this production, and specifically, anything about Shaffer?
I worked at Chichester in the revival of Amadeus in the summer of 2014. The production opened the newly refurbished theater with Rupert Everett as Salieri, who was magnificent in the role. It was a pleasure to work there again as I had done so both as actor and director, and it was also a privilege to have Peter Shaffer with us on the journey, whom I had known for a number of years. He was most accommodating during rehearsals and complimentary about our production and the performances within.
His contribution to the play had not ended with the first production in 1979 but continued with the director Peter Hall over two decades to 1999 with David Suchet as Salieri. He continued to revise the play over again until Suchet’s production as he felt that there were some elements missing.
What, in your estimation, makes Amadeus such a timeless, wonderful piece of literature? What do you attribute its popularity to? It’s such a classic of contemporary drama.
Amadeus, in my mind, has the quality of a “Revenge Comedy,” both in the magnificent character analysis of Salieri and of one of the greatest composers ever, Mozart, and the extraordinary assimilation of music and drama in one play. While it is a fictional account of their struggle, there are enough gaps in Mozart’s biography to allow some genuine speculation as to the rivalry of Salieri with Mozart (you can learn more about this rivalry at our Free Folger Friday, “Mozart vs. Salieri” on November 22).
The music is the “extra” leading role that balances the drama. Peter Shaffer’s assimilation of the dual art forms has made this an incredibly popular and immediate play. The best plays, for me, deal primarily with human nature, and this does so in spades!
You’ve been in rehearsal for about two weeks now. Can you give us an idea of what we might expect to see when we come to see Amadeus at the Folger?
I have had the great fortune to work with my costume and set designers, Mariah Anzaldo Hale and Tony Cisek, a number of times before. They have helped me place the events that unfold in this drama inside the mind of Salieri—sometimes depicted with all the gorgeousness of 18th-century costumes and settings, and sometimes reflecting the prison that Salieri has created for himself in his envy and rage towards Mozart. Along with Max Doolittle’s lighting and Sharath Patel’s superb musical expertise, it is going to be a sumptuous evening. Enjoy!
Thanks to Richard for taking the time to talk to us! Folger Theatre’s Amadeus begins performances November 5. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.