Addison — Mozart’s Muse is an operatic play about Mozart’s sister-in-law and one-time love interest, singer Aloysia Weber. “Operatic play” in this case means that the star of the de facto one-woman show, soprano and actor Jendi Tarde, speaks about half her lines, and the rest are songs in English based on themes by Mozart.
It’s an interesting pastiche: not quite opera, because of the small scale and quantity of spoken text; although in a play about an opera singer, Tarde is able to use her voice to great effect. It' not quite a play, because for many listeners (judging from comments overheard as I left the theater), Tarde’s voice was the highlight of the production.
The plot is loosely based on a historical truth: Mozart did have a romantic entanglement of some sort with his future wife’s sister Aloysia. For some reason, he did not marry Aloysia, but married her younger sister Constanze Weber instead. Aloysia, a gifted soprano, did support her family, at least in part, by singing, and she did make a troubled marriage to actor Joseph Lange. Some of the rest of the plot is apocryphal—most notably, that Mozart’s unfinished singspiel, Zaide, was written for Aloysia as a love present. However, the relationship between Zaide and Mozart’s Muse, also essentially a singspiel, is a clever one.
The costumes, designed by Arianna Reaves, are a highlight of this production. Birdie, the Dresser, in a silent role, spends much of the play’s hour getting Aloysia in and out of 18th-century costumes, so we get to see the layers of these costumes (shift, petticoats, corsets and finally a gown) in great detail. They work marvelously to set the mood of the production and to demonstrate the constraints, both physical and psychological, of women in 18th-century Europe.
Piano accompanist Mark Graham, the only other person onstage, also performed his difficult role credibly, even when called upon to don a Mozartean wig for the second half of the show.
Some of the lyrics and dialogue work less well. A reference to Emperor Joseph II’s comment (possibly, too, apocryphal) that Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio had “too many notes” engendered a laugh of recognition, but was that because most listeners recognized it as a quotation from the play, and more likely the movie version of, Amadeus? Likewise, some of the songs appeared to strain Tarde’s vocal range a bit at both ends, surprising considering that she wrote them for herself. Oddest was a song about Aloysia’s abusive marriage with the chorus “Beat me, beat me dear Joseph” that read like an homage to S&M, and did not connect with the message of the remainder of the play.
On the whole, though, this “operatic play” was an entertaining and creatively conceived production that will appeal to Mozart buffs, opera fans and theatergoers alike.
» Mozart's Muse repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 15; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 16 on the Main Stage at the Addison Theatre Centre
» WaterTower Theatre's 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival is 10 days of live theater, dance, music and visual art. To see the full schedule, go here.