The Story Of The Mozart We Never Knew
St James Studio’s The Other Mozart is the untold story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s virtuoso sister Nannerl, who performed with her prodigy brother as part of a wunderkinder duo. Directed by Isaac Byrne and performed by Sylvia Milo, it is a fascinating and tragic one-woman show about a doomed musical talent whose dreams succumbed to the gender expectations of the times.
Milo, with her large expressive eyes, offers an arresting depiction of the excitable and child-like Nannerl. The fantastical re-enactment of her life involves various letters and vignettes and suggests the sister was an equal, in both talent and aspiration, to her more famous and dominating brother. Even as a baby it seems, Wolfie found ways to interfere with Nannerl’s playing. The narrative, performed in different accents, is dotted with humour but feels exceedingly circuitous at times, as Nannerl repeatedly battles her father’s disapproval to perform and compose.
The tone shifts between joy and gloom, the latter providing stark reminders of the brutal quality of 17th and 18th century life. For example, several close calls with death — including the father’s decision to leave the women of the Mozart household for dead in a smallpox infested house — contrast with the treat of glimpsing inside the personal lives of Wolfgang and Nannerl and, especially, the fun they had when performing in Court.
The set design is a frilled, oversized skirt, blanketed in letters from which Nannerl pulls out various objects. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and gains added meaning later on as Nannerl squeezes into its corset, the skirt becoming a metaphorical shroud that references her domestic servitude. Meanwhile, the lavender powder she uses proves equally suffocating. Harpsichord music streams through the silhouetted lighting and in the dark of the theatre the two create a dreamlike background that adds atmosphere to the storytelling.
Undoubtedly, fulfilling one’s personal aspirations was hardly an acceptable priority at the time the play is set (especially for women), and it becomes apparent that even with two child geniuses, the Mozart family had to make difficult, socio-economically driven choices which included sending Nannerl away.
While that message sometimes feels overdone here, it’s a welcome reminder that we live in a time when more women enjoy the right to pursue their own talents and a greater sense of self-determination. Sadly, that doesn’t alter the collective loss of so many generations which missed the chance to have contributions from half the world’s population.
The Other Mozart show runs until 19 September at St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA. Tickets are £17.50-£20. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 11 September 2015