Review: ‘The Other Mozart’ at Columbia Festival of the Arts

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The Columbia Festival of the Arts began last week in Columbia, Maryland. After a wonderful weekend of music and other performances as well as a place for local artists to display their work at the Lakefront last week, this weekend included a performance of The Other Mozart which was written and performed by Sylvia Milo at the Smith Theatre at HCC.

Sylvia Milo in The Other Mozart. Photo by Charlotte Dobre.
Sylvia Milo in The Other Mozart. Photo by Charlotte Dobre.

The story is a simple and familiar one for women until the latter part of the 20th century. Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart was the older sister of the famous Wolfgang Amadeus. She, too, was consumed by music from her earliest years but because she was a girl she was only allowed to play the harpsichord. At the time that was the only proper instrument for a female, even a violin was unacceptable. She was allowed to accompany her younger brother “Wolfie” and her father on concert tours until she reached her teens when it was not considered proper any longer. She had already begun helping her genius brother orchestrate his first symphony, and when left back in Salzburg with her mother while her father and sibling went on tour, she even composed. The play was based on letters Nannerl saved from her father and brother. Not only did Maria Anna know the younger Mozart was a genius, she also had the vision to save his letters and some of his original compositions. There is also some written record that Milo bases this one-woman show on. The times and places of her parents’ and brother’s death, where they lived and when, her marriage and her death, even her tombstone, are archived. Nannerl also kept a diary.

Milo’s performance was beautiful and emotional as we watched her grow from a small girl to a widow and mother. Her joys–learning to play music, practicing and performing and going on tour. as well as the sadness of her parents’ death, the tragedy of her brother’s life, as well as her loveless marriage at the age of 33, were all deftly expressed by this very talented actress. One-person shows are demanding and Milo was flawless in capturing this very complex woman.

Milo is also the playwright and her script was tailored to her display the depth of her talent. There was never a moment where your attention waned. Isaac Byrne directed. He choreographed Ms. Milo to show her unique beauty and keep that strong connection to her audience. This was essential with only one actor on the stage.

The costume design was also really the set. Magdalena Dabrowska and Miodrag Guberinic were credited. The set/costume was a huge circular mesh that lays like a bridal veil on the stage. It was covered with letters and music that became props. In the center was a sculpture or form that at times was a harpsichord or desk and then became an 18th-century woman’s bustle (think Marie Antoinette’s fashions). The mesh had a hole in the center that Milo climbed into and the mesh became part of her costume. It was ingenious and stunning.

Sylvia Milo in The Other Mozart.
Sylvia Milo in The Other Mozart. Photo by Charlotte Dobre.

The sound was designed by Nathan Davis. In this case, the sound was the other actor on stage. It was often the music that gives the cues, and again it was seamless. Davis and Phyliss Chen also wrote music for the show to go along with some of the classical pieces.

The lighting, which assists in creating many of the dramatic elements, was designed by Joshua Rose.

If you were not able to see this production, hopefully you will catch it on tour in another venue. The story of The Other Mozart chronicles the plight of a brilliant woman and still is applicable today. There are still professions where women are not represented equitably, especially in the arts.

The Other Mozart played June 22, 2018, at The Smith Theatre at Howard Community College, as part of the 2018 Columbia Festival of the Arts. The Columbia Festival of the Arts runs through June 29 at various places throughout Columbia, coming to an end this year with a performance of Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Memphis at the Jim Rouse Theatre. For tickets and information for upcoming Festival events, go online.