A Miscarriage of Glory

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[Editor’s note: Please welcome Blackbird Theater’s managing director, Greg Greene, to the Rabbit Room. Many of you may have met him at Hutchmoot 2012 where he led a session called “The Theology of Theater.” Greg has become a good friend over the last couple of years and I’m always impressed with his level of theological insight into the plays that Blackbird Theater produces. Here he is with a bit of insight into his production of Amadeus. Specially-priced tickets to the show are still available through the Rabbit Room store. We hope to see you there.]

I’m sitting in the room with a dozen skilled and honest actors in a first rehearsal known as “table talk.” We discuss the play, its characters and meanings, read through a handful of scenes, and hear the director’s vision for the show we will create. The play is Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. You likely know the film—also scripted by Shaffer—and its anti-hero Antonio Salieri, the respected court composer of eighteenth century Vienna. Salieri is, by his own account, a righteous man: chaste, hard-working, striving to better the lot of his fellows. Above all, he wants to be a conduit of God through the pure, unparalleled transport of music. But that’s not all—he wants to be famous. “Not to deceive you,” he tells the audience, “I wanted to blaze, like a comet, across the firmament of Europe.”

Life for Salieri is rich with promise until Mozart arrives at Vienna’s royal court. Though certainly the more privileged and positioned of the two, when Salieri browses one of the younger composer’s scores, he realizes that he will ever be consigned to the shadow of Mozart, the purer and singularly transporting conduit of the divine. In Salieri’s envious eyes, Mozart is the elect—the chosen voice of God.

One of my actresses—a vivacious, intuitive Texan—says that her designer/musician husband is in constant turmoil over the disparity between his God-given artistic calling and his sense of achievement. Whatever measure of artistic success he’s expected by now, he is far from it. She asks him: And if you could achieve everything you dream of, would it be enough? He knows it wouldn’t be, and he doesn’t know what would.

In a room full of actors, everyone knows the feeling.

Amadeus is one of the great scripts of the twentieth century—a bold, unflinching look at religious motivation, human frailty, and unbridled genius. And while its cinematic offspring leans more toward a fictionalized Mozart biopic, the play is more starkly narrated by his rival. At the heart of Amadeus are Salieri’s confession of Mozart’s murder and, more shockingly, his earnest complaint against what he sees as a capricious God.

Salieri has always considered his wealth, status, and considerable artistic success to be signs of God’s favor. He is, indeed, a blessed man. “I own a respectable house, and a respectable wife,” he says, referring to the docile Teresa (tellingly, a role with little presence and no lines in his self-obsessed narrative). Mozart, the one-time child prodigy, is still a genius and, for the most part, still a child, not to mention vulgar and self-destructive. Constanze, his wife and chief advocate, is little more than a child herself. As Mozart lives and composes with joyous abandon, he needs someone in Vienna’s court to shield him from the consequences of his own immaturity. Salieri is uniquely positioned to recognize Mozart’s genius, to come alongside as counselor and ambassador, and help him build a body of work that would elevate the soul of the human race. Salieri instead makes a chilling choice: if he cannot be the divine voice—if God chooses that “obscene child” over the steadfast Salieri—then he will defy God’s will by destroying Mozart.

Who among us in the creative fields has not shared Salieri’s struggle, in essence if not in his extreme of satanic pride and dilapidating envy?

My friend “Dee,” a godly and mission-minded actress, confesses her frustration after years of dedication to stagecraft while living off high-flex/low-pay jobs, and for . . . what? Her years of scrutinizing the signs for a heavenly confirmation that she is following God’s plan for her life yield little of the proof we are trained to look for.

And what is that proof? Surely fame is the first and most naturally assumed measure of success. In my teens, I wanted fame as a writer. In my twenties, I tempered my fleshly nature by saying I didn’t want fame, only influence. By my thirties, the measure evolved (or devolved) into mere livelihood. Now in my early forties, I’m coming to terms with the real problem: it’s not the modesty of the measure, it’s the focus. My fame, my influence, my livelihood.

Artists, I think, are inclined to desire glory, and to the Christian artist, the glory belongs to, is sourced from, God. But would I be content to sit at the feet of Mozart and drink in the glory of God flowing from his piano? I confess the gnawing of discontent. Would I be satisfied to participate in the creation of glory, to be the one person uniquely positioned to recognize and foster Mozart’s brilliant compositions? In my fleshly nature, I confess that’s just not enough. I want to be the source of the glory. And here I share Salieri’s flaw: satanic pride, dilapidating envy. As an artist—as a Christian artist—I have much to re-learn.

In a room full of creatives, I’m guessing we all know the feeling.

[Join us at the March 9th performance of the show. Tickets available here. There will be a special question and answer session with the cast and crew after the show.]


8 Comments

  1. Peter B

    (sorry, I bone-headedly typed into the wrong window; that was a question for Pete, not Greg)

    What’s funny about this dilemma is that it follows us out of what would normally be considered “creative” or “artistic” professions, into stuff like software development. I can’t tell you how tempting it is to measure myself against someone else, or to wish their downfall as a vehicle for my own rise — and that’s before I even get to the writer/musician in me, whose opportunities are perhaps mercifully suppressed until sufficient joy and wisdom can be found in my outlook.

  2. Dan Kulp

    In a devotional my wife & I are in it was stated that men are driven by “significance” and women are driven by “intimacy”. That’s a very broadbrush but it stuck with me like an itchy shirt-tag.

    In my internal analysis/criticism I find I’m less driven by “fame” as much as being part of something big (glorious). That epiphany has moved me to trying to remember that I am significant to my heavenly Father. (cue the Jason Gray song).

  3. JamesDWitmer

    Thank you for this, Greg. I appreciate how by including your own story you reveal the real issue.

    It’s not how much recognition we are willing to give up, or how much we demand.
    It’s the answer to your question,”Would I be satisfied to participate in the creation of glory?” with one tiny, world shattering addition:

    Would I be satisfied to participate in the creation of glory [on God’s terms, not mine]?

  4. drew

    This couldn’t have hit me more squarely over the head, as if it were my hand doing the writing:

    “In my teens, I wanted fame as a writer. In my twenties, I tempered my fleshly nature by saying I didn’t want fame, only influence. By my thirties, the measure evolved (or devolved) into mere livelihood. Now in my early forties, I’m coming to terms with the real problem: it’s not the modesty of the measure, it’s the focus. My fame, my influence, my livelihood.”

    I have achieved influence, a degree of fame and a good livelihood. Yet I’m discontent. And I could whine and explain why certain other goals are not met, why I wonder what is staying God’s hand from gifting that which I long for most, yet I’m a shade from 40 and I’m convicted by the final line. The focus. My, my, my.

    Could I ever be empty enough of me to seek His, His, His? And how devoutly do I wish it so? Truthfully, I jealously cling to My, My, My, like Gollum in the darkest pit beneath the mountain. There are certain things I hold, well … precious.

  5. Greg Greene

    A heartfelt thanks to everyone who read and commented on this post. It’s affirming to hear your echoes and elaborations! Let me respond to a couple of your thoughts:

    Dan: Yes, the significance vs. intimacy motivation is a generalization, but it certainly rings true. I think I am ultimately driven by the desire for intimacy with God, but as a born & bred Type A Legalist, I seek it through Significance – to be worthy of intimacy by my achievements. I hear the lines in Andrew’s recent song – You don’t have to work so hard, You can rest easy; You don’t have to prove yourself, You’re already mine – and I find them very challenging. I believe they’re true, but I don’t know how to reconcile them with my spirit.

    James, you’re right, that little nuanced amendment is very significant and holds a lot of promise.

    Drew, yes, yes, yes. Here’s what I’m beginning to wonder: if the struggle in our lives is more valuable in God’s eyes than our successes; if the greatest, most evangelistic stories we can ever conceive and tell in fact pale in comparison to the stories we are becoming in God’s conversation with Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God says, “There is no one on earth like him…” Notice God does not exclaim to Satan, “Have you considered Job? He is an awesome farmer.” It’s about his loyalty, not his achievements. We still try to define our godly legacies in terms we can measure – money, tickets sold/downloads purchased, number of Facebook friends, how many years we’ve been in the business, or, more insidiously, how far I can bend other people’s will to mine – when surely we should measure our Christian legacies in moral terms.

    Stephen, let’s get our heads together and figure out how to write off the plane ticket to Nashville as a business expense!

    Thanks, everyone!

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