What the two men have in common is an appreciation for music that far exceeds what anybody else at court is capable of — not just an ear, but a spirit. The passages in which Salieri describes Mozart's operas, as the music itself plays behind him, are among Shaffer's most exquisite. Hundertmark's Salieri speaks these with a pleasure indistinguishable from pain, and as Lewis conducts Mozart's work (quite well), he conveys both the young man's brilliance and his unadulterated joy, without ego or ostentation, in trying to "turn the audience into God".

We already know — from history, and from Salieri himself — that this eternal child is not going to make it, that he'll be dead of syphilis and in a pauper's grave before he's 28. But his fall and pathos are still haunting, in Lewis's hands (his baby-talk with Constanze is both sweet and haunting; his descent into syphilitic madness is aching), and even more difficult to watch is Salieri's slow transformation into a truly despicable, pitiable creature. In turning on God, the music that so moves him, and the man who created it, he has really turned on himself.

Megan Grumbling can be reached at  mgrumbling@hotmail.com.

AMADEUS | by Peter Shaffer | Directed by Genevieve Aichele | Produced by New Hampshire Theatre Project, in Portsmouth NH | through January 23 | 603.431.6644

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