by Peter Shaffer
Amadeus is a play by Peter Shaffer.
It is based on the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, highly fictionalized.
Amadeus was first performed in 1979. It was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin which was later adapted into an opera of the same name by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, both the play and the opera were written during the 19th century. Shaffer then adapted Amadeus for a film released in 1984.
Significant use is made of the music of Mozart, Salieri and other composers of the period. The premieres of Mozart’s operas The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute are each the setting for key scenes of the play.
Opening & Closing Dates
Type & Version
Dec 17, 1980 – Oct 16, 1983
Play / Original
Broadhurst Theatre, NY, USA
Dec 15, 1999 – May 14, 2000
Play / Revival
Music Box Theatre, NY, USA
Opening Night Cast
Since the original run, Shaffer has extensively revised his play, including changes to plot details; the following is common to all revisions.
At the opening of the tale, Salieri is an old man, having long outlived his fame, and is convinced he used poison to assassinate Mozart. Speaking directly to the audience, he promises to explain himself. The action then flashes back to the eighteenth century, at a time when Salieri has not met Mozart in person, but has heard of him and his music. He adores Mozart’s compositions, and is thrilled at the chance to meet Mozart in person, during a salon at which some of Mozart’s compositions will be played. When he finally does catch sight of Mozart, however, he is deeply disappointed to find that Mozart’s personality does not match the grace or charm of his compositions. When Salieri first meets him, Mozart is crawling around on his hands and knees, engaging in profane talk with his future bride Constanze Weber.
Salieri cannot reconcile Mozart’s boorish behaviour with the genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him. Indeed, Salieri, who has been a devout Catholic all his life, cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri renounces God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart as a way of getting back at his Creator.
Throughout much of the rest of the play, Salieri masquerades as Mozart’s ally to his face while doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have. On more than one occasion it is only the direct intervention of the Emperor himself that allows Mozart to continue (interventions which Salieri opposes, and then is all too happy to take credit for when Mozart assumes it was he who intervened). Salieri also humiliates Mozart’s wife when she comes to Salieri for aid, and smears Mozart’s character with the Emperor and the court. A major theme in Amadeus is Mozart’s repeated attempts to win over the aristocratic “public” with increasingly brilliant compositions, which are always frustrated either by Salieri or by the aristocracy’s own inability to appreciate Mozart’s genius.
The play ends with Salieri attempting suicide in a last attempt to be remembered, leaving a false confession of having murdered Mozart with arsenic. He survives, however, and his confession is disbelieved by all, leaving him to wallow once again in mediocrity.
Background and Production
Shaffer used artistic license in his portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri. Documentary evidence suggests that there was some antipathy between the two men, but the idea that Salieri was the instigator of Mozart’s demise is not given academic credence. While historically there may have been actual rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, there is also evidence that they enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect. As an example, Salieri later tutored Mozart’s son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart in music.
Writer David Cairns called Amadeus “myth-mongering” and argued against Shaffer’s alleged portrait of Mozart as “two contradictory beings, sublime artist and fool”, positing instead that Mozart was “fundamentally well-integrated”. Cairns also rejects the “romantic legend” that Mozart always wrote out perfect manuscripts of works already completely composed in his head, citing major and prolonged revisions to several manuscripts (see: Mozart’s compositional method).
Amadeus was first presented at the Royal National Theatre, London in 1979, directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Paul Scofield as Salieri, Simon Callow as Mozart, and Felicity Kendal as Constanze. It was later transferred in modified form to the West End, starring Frank Finlay as Salieri.
The play premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart and Jane Seymour as Constanze. It ran for 1,181 performances and was nominated for seven Tony Awards (best actor for both McKellen and Curry, best director for Peter Hall, best play, best costume design, lighting, and set design for John Bury), of which it won five (including a best actor Tony for McKellen). During the run of the play McKellen was replaced by John Wood, Frank Langella, David Dukes, David Birney, John Horton, and Daniel Davis. Curry was replaced by Peter Firth, Peter Crook, Dennis Boutsikaris, John Pankow, Mark Hamill, and John Thomas Waite. Also playing Constanze were Amy Irving, Suzanne Lederer, Michele Farr, Caris Corfman and Maureen Moore.
Adam Redfield and Terry Finn appeared as Mozart and Constanze, respectively, in the 1984 Virginia Stage Company production. Performed at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, the drama was directed by Charles Towers.
The play was revived in 1999 at the Music Box Theatre, New York City, directed again by Peter Hall and ran for 173 performances (December 15, 1999 – May 14, 2000), receiving Tony Award nominations for Best Revival and Best Actor in a Play (David Suchet, who played Salieri). Also in the cast were Michael Sheen as Mozart, Cindy Katz as Constanze and David McCallum as Joseph II.
In July 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a production of portions from the latest revision of the play at the Hollywood Bowl. Neil Patrick Harris starred as Mozart, and Michael York as Salieri. Leonard Slatkin conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra.
Film and other adaptations
The 1984 film adaptation won an Academy Award for Best Picture. It starred F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (winning the Oscar for Best Actor for this role), Tom Hulce as Mozart, and Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze. The play was thoroughly reworked by Shaffer and the film’s director, Milos Forman with scenes and characters not found in the play. While the focus of the play is primarily on Salieri, the film goes further into developing the characters of both composers.
In 1983, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a full adaptation of the play directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring the original cast of his National Theatre production. The cast included:
- Antonio Salieri ….. Paul Scofield
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ….. Simon Callow
- Constanze Mozart ….. Felicity Kendal
- Joseph II ….. John Normington
- Gottfried van Swieten ….. Nicholas Selby
- Count Franz Orsini Rosenberg ….. Willoughby Goddard
- Johann Killian Von Strack ….. Nicky Henson
- Venticelli ….. Donald Gee, Dermot Crowley
- Citizens of Vienna ….. Nigel Bellairs, Susan Gilmore, Peggy Marshall, Robin Meredith, Anne Sedgwick, William Sleigh, Glenn Williams
This radio adaptation was re-broadcast on 2 January 2011 as part of Radio 3’s Genius of Mozart season.
To celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006, BBC Radio 2 broadcast an adaptation by Neville Teller of Shaffer’s play in eight fifteen-minute episodes directed by Peter Leslie Wilde and narrated by F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (re-broadcast May 24 – June 2, 2010 on BBC Radio 7).
Awards and Nominations
- 1979 Evening Standard Award for Best Play
- 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
- 1981 Tony Award for Best Play
- Ian McKellen (2008). “Amadeus”. Ian McKellen Stage. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- Thomas, Bob. “Hamill changes pace as star of ‘Amadeus'” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 20, 1983
- Malgorzata Kurowska (1998). “Peter Shaffer’s play ‘Amadeus’ and its film adaptation by Milos Forman”.Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- Drama on 3 (2011). “Amadeus”. BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
- Radio 2 Readings (2006). “Amadeus”. BBC Radio 2. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- “Shaffer: Acclaimed Amadeus playwright”. BBC Online. 30 December 2000.. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- “Production Awards”. http://www.ibdb.com/awardproduction.asp?id=4083. Retrieved 1 May 2011.