Upstaging Mozart is impossible. Unless you’re Paul Scofield on stage.
The beginning of my multimedia education was at the Mercersburg library. We had LPs of great music and great Shakespearian productions. Earphones and the great Kiel Hall. We were told Laurence Olivier was the greatest Shakespearian actor. Listened to his Hamlet. WTF. Reminded me of John Barrymore’s film roles. Overacting without much (positive) impact on screen. Worse when you can only hear it.
So I listened to Richard Burton’s Hamlet. Please. Awful. A ham hamming it up. By default I picked a recording by a guy I’d never heard of. Paul Scofield.
I was blown away. The man should have been a major movie star. But he preferred to work on stage. I think I’ve only seen him in three movies: The Train, A Man for All Seasons, and a truly startling version of King Lear.
When he’s on screen, he’s all you can look at. I know nothing of his biography. I don’t care what his sexual persuasion was. An old Hollywood anecdote was that a sage told Robert Wagner, when he was going to costar with Spencer Tracy in The Mountain, “Grab a prop and work it. The only way anyone will see you.”
My reaction to Paul Scofield? If there had ever been a scene between Scofield and Tracy, I’d have advised Tracy to grab a prop and work it. I don’t think it would have worked any better for Tracy than it worked for Wagner.
Scofield was quite simply the best.
When something old sounds completely new, you are in the presence of genuine greatness.