03 November 2016
An inevitable consequence of long theatregoing is the tyranny of comparison. Although aged 18 when I saw Paul Scofield in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, no performance over the subsequent 36 years has matched Scofield’s vocal proteanism and sensual engagement with the audience.
Lucian Msamati, who now takes on the same Olivier stage the role of Antonio Salieri – the court composer who may have murdered Mozart in fury at God for granting the greater talent to a scatological brat – is an actor of rare energy and clarity, tremendous as the RSC’s first black Iago, and so a good fit for a role that combines the external social status of Othello with the internal malice of Iago.
The problem is that, while we tend not to think of theatrical roles being composed for specific vocal pitches in the way that choral parts are, Shaffer was writing for Scofield’s bassoon notes, and Msamati, vocally more of a trombone, can sound like a tenor singing a baritone role, especially in the sections where Salieri rages at God and his own mediocrity.
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