Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The God of Bargains

The poster for PVHS's production of Amadeus, permission granted to re-publish this image.

Greetings All:

First, a bit of housekeeping:  This is one of (ahem) a "number" of blog posts in draft form that I intended to publish a while ago.  I started writing this over a month ago.  Needless to say, it has languished.  

Part of the reason is that I've undertaken a new professional pursuit and that has consumed a fair amount of my time.  I'll write about that subject later.  The other reason is that I am writing less than I did last year.  It is not that I am losing interest in this hobby.  I assure you, that is not the case.  If anything, I am making a concerted effort to be a bit more focused in my writing.  I'll leave it to you to decide how I'm doing.

So back to this post's topic.  Last month, we experienced a bit of culture on a Saturday.  After dinner at a nice Italian Restaurant, a few of us headed up to Pleasant Valley High School (PVHS) to watch the drama department's production of Peter Shaffer's play, Amadeus.   

Amadeus is one of my favorite plays.  When I was in high school, I did a dramatic interpretation scene from the play.  I did a bit of research and learned that in the original Broadway version Ian McKellen and Tim Curry as the lead roles.  Holy cow, Batman, Gandalf and Frank-N-Furter (Rocky Horror Picture Show) on the same stage.  Oh, and throw into the mix Jane Semour as, Constanze, Mozart's wife, what a cast.

I even succumbed to the rare impulse buy urge and bought the playbill from the show.  I was going to post a few photos but thought better of it as trying to claim "fair usage" is kind of like walking on early March ice.  You can do it, but you might get wet.

Around 1985, the play made it to the big screen.  It won a bunch of awards (deservedly so.  I have a link from YouTube below if you want to get a flavor of the movie...and the central part of the story.


As far as the PVHS production was concerned, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  While my oldest daughter was not in the show, she helped out behind the scenes with hair and make-up.  I thought this group of high school actors took on an incredibly challenging play and made it there own.  This show is not a laugh out loud slapstick comedy.  It is dark.

How dark you might ask?  Well, how about these elements:  Death, possibly murder, betrayal, jealousy, deceit, lust, adultery, and I am sure other vices I am missing.  I've got a couple of links below to the play if you'd like more information.

For the purposes of this post, here's the salient fact:  It is a story of rage, rage against God.

The play is set in the twilight of the Eighteenth Century.  Antonio Salieri is a composer and a pretty good one at that.  He tells the audience in one of many monologues how he pledges his loyalty and strict obedience to God in exchange for fame.  The line Salieri says that stuck with me throughout the show is when he referred to, "...the God of bargains."

I did not know one could cut a deal with God.  

So without giving away too terribly much of the story, Mozart shows up in Vienna full of talent.  Unfortunately, he was the "fill in the blank" hedonistic rock star of his time.  He was brilliant.  Everyone knew that...especially him.  And that hubris wore thin on a lot of folks, especially Salieri.  He is at first disgusted at how Mozart's talent was given so freely by God to such an ungrateful, obscene actor.  Then the disgust turns to rage when he sees to the full extent God's gift was given.

So much so that Salieri actually declares war on God.  He vows to destroy Mozart to "punish" God.  I know, it sounds crazy, but it's not.  In Salieri's twisted mind, it all makes perfect sense.  After all, God broke a bargain.  Now it was time for retribution.

What I find fascinating about this story is how well crafted it is.  Shaffer did his homework about this era and about the importance religion played at this time.  Issues such as redemption and damnation were front and center...along with all those glorious hymns.  

The tragedy for me with this show, aside from SPOILER ALERT Mozart's death is that Salieri also dies.  He rots away from the inside.  He's drinking toxic water.  The more he drinks, the more poison he takes in, with the thirst remaining.

I might be reading way too much into this story.  And it is, a story.
I have a link to a story from The Guardian that casts doubt on the premise that makes this play so good. 

So let's set aside Saleri's complicity in Mozart's death.  Let's instead look at the emotional suicide he commits not by his rage at God but for his his lack of gratitude for his own gifts and talents.  It was this lack of gratitude that was his undoing, not Mozart's.

Gratitude.  It's one of those words that we hear a lot but describing it can be a challenge.  Here's a definition from the web that works pretty well for me:

  1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
  2. synonyms: gratefulness, thankfulness, thanks, appreciation;
Elie Wissel, the Nobel Laurette and Holocaust survivor wrote this gem:   "When I person does not have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity."  

Then there is this one from the Icon herself:

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
– Oprah Winfrey

So had Salieri been, as Shaffer muses, Mozart's murderer, he could have also been his savior.  He could have said to God, "I thought you had punished me.  I was wrong.  Mozart's music is a gift to the world and he is a gift to me.  I will not destroy him, shoving him in front of the speeding carriage of poverty.  I will pay for fire and food and light and hope.  I will not curse his talent, I will cherish it.  His success does not diminish mine.  If anything, he will inspire me to create even better music."
Had he done this, what other music would we have today?  Both that of Mozart's and Salieri's.  

If you're a person of faith, then you likely accept the premise God has given us all free will.  With free will comes both the right and obligation to yes, accept our circumstances as they are.  However, we also have the ability to be grateful for what we have.  In that gratitude, God has given us a truly rare and wonderful gift.

That might be the greatest bargain one could strike.  
Be well my friends,






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