There must be a sort of actor's compulsion at work here for F. Murray Abraham, who recently won the Oscar for portraying Mozart's rival, Antonio Salieri, in "Amadeus." Tonight, he made his debut as Mozart.
He found himself repeating not only the words of the iniquitous Salieri but also the words of the sublime Mozart -- at long last -- as he narrated a script linking 12 works that made up the opening concert of the Baltimore Symphony's summer Mozart festival.
No doubt Mozart is a role that Abraham had been thirsting to play. And it was the smart idea of the Baltimore Symphony's new music director, David Zinman, to give him the chance. Copious letters of the great man were an integral part of Abraham's narration, which was constructed by former Washington Opera director Ian Strasfogel.
An eloquent example from a letter: "I never go to bed without reflecting that, young as I may be, I may never live another day." Abraham then followed this by a quote that Mozart's sister remembered from his deathbed: "You must stay here . . . you must see me die."
Zinman then followed these words with the crushing two movements from the "Requiem" that were Mozart's last creations and that provide the riveting dramatic climax of "Amadeus."
There was the "Confutatis," the movement that the composer is fictionally shown dictating in his fever to Salieri. And there was that overwhelming creation, the "Lacrimosa," performed in the movie as Mozart's body is being carted to its grave.
The performance, with the orchestra joined by the fine Baltimore Symphony Chorus, was majestic indeed. Zinman's interpretation was broad and weighty.
Abraham and Zinman kept playing off each segment of narrative against the work that followed. At one point, Abraham was talking about the irony that Mozart's life was so short that he could have had no notion of his towering place in history, whereas his rival's life was so long that he came to learn how small his place would actually be. Abraham ended with this question: "Who can say whose misfortune was worse?"
Then, in startling contrast, there flowed the seraphic romance of the D Minor Concerto, K. 466, quite feelingly performed by a young pianist named Paul Maillet (the acoustical ambiance for the piano in this city's Meyerhoff Hall is particularly fine).
It certainly would come as no surprise to anyone who has seen "Amadeus" that Abraham would handle such a narration with power. It also would come as no surprise to Washington listeners that Zinman, who has often conducted Mostly Mozart concerts at the Kennedy Center, would be equally powerful as a Mozart conductor.
Concerts of the kind heard tonight, with a little snippet of this and a little snippet of that, are not always the most polished events. Rehearsal is difficult. In this case Zinman solved the problem by putting the emphasis more on the longer lines of the music than on fine points of articulation.
Where a concert like tonight's is strongest, however, is the way the sum of their parts illustrates the diversity of the miracle that is Mozart. It is, quite simply, hard to comprehend.
There was no mention of the movie. But there were frequent references that were unmistakable. None was more striking than the evening's conclusion -- that extraordinarily noble duet of reconciliation between the count and countess that ends the "marriage" of Figaro. It is so exalted a moment that even Mozart would never exceed it. And it was to this music in the film as Salieri scanned the manuscript of "Figaro" that he was finally forced to face the anguish of his fate.