This completely original production is well researched, beautifully written, creatively staged, and wonderfully acted. Era, social mores, music, the character of a wild child genius, and the plight of a prodigy relegated to domesticity because she had the bad luck to be born female are illuminated with narrative intimacy. We’re made to understand prevalent repression and bigotry and to feel thwarted ambition and joy. The play is entertaining, enlightening, and often humorous. One does not have to have a classical music background to thoroughly enjoy it.
Utilizing actual correspondence, playwright Sylvia Milo offers insight into the life of Wolfgang’s older sister, Nannerl Mozart, a prodigy before her spoiled, demanding brother was born. The only one who could stop his caterwauling, she’s shown whistling into the crib. “And so I teach him to whistle back. It was his first music lesson.”
When “Wolfi” hears Nannerl play, he wails until he’s allowed a turn at the keyboard. The toddler parrots exactly what his sister executed. “Papa is stunned.” Two years later, the three leave mama in Salzburg to tour. “Two child prodigies -my name is first – I play the harpsichord better!” We hear about Munich and Maximilian III, Vienna and the Imperial Couple, Frankfort, Bonn…and, eventually Paris. “Ohh…the fashions at Versailles!” While Nannerl is still a better musician, Wolfgang snares attention with tricks: he plays blindfolded or upside down and acts at court like a mischievous child. Still, she’s in heaven.
When papa gets sick in London, “Wolfi is sad. I urge him to compose. He whistles to me his whole first symphony, and I write it all down for him and orchestrate it.” All this from a girl increasingly known as her brother’s pupil. Later, Nannerl is ill. Papa is told that allowing her to pursue “intellectual concentration… is physically and psychologically dangerous” to women. She is fifteen by the time they return home. Now mama is concerned that her daughter learn to run a house and, for security’s sake, acquire a husband. Nannerl gets this training while her brother is taught composition.
“Women should be educated for the pleasure of men. They should learn to sew, add simple numbers, and read just enough to please a spouse.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Only once, does Nannerl play in public as her spirit commands. After that, she’s left home while papa continues to spend every cent of the family’s small savings on promoting Wolfgang into a paid position court. We hear about the tour in letters from both with her own reactions and comments. Commissions start to come, but still no permanent affiliation.
Sylvia Milo plays every character with differential brio. Years later, when Wolfgang has settled in Vienna, he visits with his new wife, Costanze. The juvenile couple is particularly cringe-worthy and well realized. As Nannerl, Milo is immensely graceful, thoughtful, focused. This is an unhurried performance. (You won’t feel time pass.) Our audience is fully engaged and sympathetic. The actress makes her character’s experience immediate and visceral. And she’s charming.
Director Isaac Byne has done a masterful job, utilizing the small, flat space with imagination. His heroine is rarely still, but never unnatural. Segues into other characters are fluent and clear, but never so well etched they distract. Characterization of Nannerl is immensely appealing. Pace couldn’t be better; we witness thinking.
I can’t sufficiently praise the concept and manifestation of the dress. At once opulent and symbolic, it defines a playing area and spurs anticipation. Small props appear from and recede into hidden pockets in an eighteen foot skirt covered with hundreds of loose letters. A metal corset with panniers rises from its center. The costume, for it becomes just that, is also the play’s set. Until it completely morphs, Nannerl’s cloth corset, pantaloons and white hose work perfectly, offering sprite-like freedom of movement not allowed in life.
Contributing artists are top notch. Hair/Wig design by Courtney Bednarowski is pitch perfect. Like cotton candy it rises above Nonnerl creating something of a halo. The finely coiffed curls with which we associate this period would have been beyond her status.
Joshua Roses’s Lighting Design affects every move and mood.
Original Music by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen is rich and evocative. Sounds create metallic abrasion, out of sync clockwork, an automaton, a music box.
Opening photo by Charlotte Dobre
Other Photos by Peter Griesser, DIVA Arts Collective
HERE Arts Center and Little Matchstick Factory presents
The Other Mozart
Written and Performed by Sylvia Milo
Directed by Isaac Byrne
Music Composed by Nathan Davis, Phyllis Chen
Additional Music by: Marianna Martines; L. Mozart, and W. A. Mozart
Costume – Magdalena Dabrowska and Miodrag Guberinic
HERE Arts Center
145 6th Avenue-Entrance on Dominick Street
Through July 12, 2012