Sylvia Milo delivered a haunting, profound performance in “The Other Mozart” to honor the struggle of women in history as the only cast member of the one-woman play.
“The Other Mozart,” is an original play about the life of Maria Anna Mozart, or Nannerl, the sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sylvia Milo wrote, produced and acted in the show, which has been nominated for eight New York Innovative Theatre awards, Milo said. Nathan Davis, one of the composers and the sound designer received a nomination for the Drama Desk Award, and Milo received an Off Broadway Alliance nomination.
Milo was inspired to tell the story of Nannerl after visiting the Mozart House in Vienna, Austria, 13 years ago, she said.
“On the exit wall of the museum there was a tiny copy of a portrait of the Mozart family,” Milo said. “It drew my attention because there was a woman seated next to Wolfgang, playing together on the harpsichord, and I knew it was not his wife. So, I figured it was his sister, that I did not previously know about, although she had studied music history extensively. Wolfgang is still so prominent in our culture through his music and story, but she does not exist at all in that narrative.”
Nannerl was five years older than Wolfgang and was a piano player as well, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. Her father, Leopold Mozart, taught her to play the harpsichord when she was 8 and she quickly perfected her technique. The Mozart family toured in over 88 cities in Europe when she was only 12 years old, playing for thousands of people. She was called a musical prodigy, but her compositions were unfortunately lost over time.
After researching Nannerl, Milo discovered how fascinating her story was and decided to make it her mission to make it into a play, she said.
“The Other Mozart” gives a voice to a talented, passionate and complex woman lost in the shadows of her famous brother. Throughout the duration of the play, Milo depicts Nannerl in every stage of her life from adolescence to reflecting on her life after death. She beautifully illustrates the restrictions and barriers Nannerl faces as a woman during the 1700s and sheds light on patriarchal issues still present today.
One of the most profound scenes appeared at the end of the play when Milo began speaking and the music steadily drowned out her voice as she tried to break free of her corset, eventually screaming in frustration. It depicts the literal and metaphorical limits she faces and how her voice as a woman is overlooked and diminished by the men in her life.
A main, stunning component of the performance is the dress. Magdalena Dabrowska designed the dress, which serves as both the set and costume of the play. At 16 feet in diameter and made of white tulle, the dress is intended to pick up on every shade of light and beautifully displays it for dramatic purposes, Milo said. It features a corset-like structure in the middle, surrounded by white tulle and Milo periodically moves in and out of the structure as the play calls for it. The dress is supposed to show how the time period was not only lavish and grand, but also placed restrictions on Nannerl and other women.
Davis and Phyllis Chen, the composers of “The Other Mozart,” did an incredible job of giving Nannerl a voice by portraying what her musical compositions might have sounded like, since all of her music was lost through the years.
The music evolves throughout the play, starting with teacups and mini pianos at the beginning during Nannerl’s childhood years, and grows in maturity as the character does. The melodies are dream-like and moving.
“They didn’t want to create anything that could’ve been mistaken as her music, so they decided to instead depict a musical imagination of wonder and potential in what could have been,” assistant director Kodi Milburn said. “Also, looking into what she might have had in her ears as a young child was important, like music boxes, clavichords, harpsichords and teacups.”
Milo’s acting, like the music, was enchanting. The depth and drama which she evoked through the lines left me short of breath at times, feeling Nannerl’s pain and desperation. Though dramatic, there was also levity and humor in her pain. She was able to bring a talented, brilliant artist to life through theater and share her story with the world.
Throughout the play, Milo reads the letters of the Mozart family aloud, scattering them across the dress, which is eventually covered in pages and pages at the end of the production. The tulle is layered in words forgotten over time, much like the beautiful artist, Maria Anna Mozart.
“The Other Mozart,” which played at the Faulkner Performing Arts Center March 7, paid tribute to International Women’s Day March 8. The play demonstrated the motivation and determination displayed by a woman in a time when men ruled everything, aiming to inspire women to take that same boldness today and apply it to their lives.