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Amadeus is a stage play written in 1979 by English author Peter Shaffer, loosely based on the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Amadeus was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin and later adapted into an opera of the same name by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Shaffer then adapted the play for a film released in 1984.

Significant use is made of the music of Mozart, Salieri and other composers of the period.

Plot synopsis

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 smutty talk with his future bride Constanze Weber.

Salieri cannot reconcile Mozart's boorish behavior 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 rejects God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy him.

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 pathetic 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

Factual accuracy

Shaffer used dramatic licence in his portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri, but there is debate as to just how much. Documentary evidence suggests that there was some antipathy between Mozart and Salieri, 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 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 the play

Amadeus was first presented at the London National Theatre 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 Broadwaymarker 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, Dennis Boutsikaris, John Pankow, Mark Hamill, and John Thomas Waite. Also playing Constanze were Amy Irving, Suzanne Lederer, and Maureen Moore.

Mark Hamill was cast as Mozart in the 1983 Los Angelesmarker production.

Adam Redfield and Terry Finn appeared as Mozart and Constanze Mozart, respectively in the 1984 Virginia Stage Company production. Performed at the Wells Theatre in Norfolkmarker, the drama was directed by Charles Towers.

The play was revived in 2000, and received Tony Award nominations for best revival and best actor (David Suchet).

In 2004, a modified production of Amadeus premiered in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvaniamarker at the historic playhouse. The considerably shorter production was directed by Will Stutts, Mount Gretna Playhouse's artistic director. The show was stage managed by Joseph Borkovich and featured Robert Campbell (Asylum 11) as Mozart. Dan Olmstead (Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate) played Salieri. Duffey Westlake (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Anchorman) played one of the Venticelli.

In July 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a production of the latest revision of the play at the Hollywood Bowlmarker. Neil Patrick Harris starred as Mozart, and Michael York as Salieri. Leonard Slatkin conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra.

In December 2007, the Sheffield Crucible Theatremarker mounted a presentation of the play. The production was unique as it was performed on the thrust stage of the Crucible, different from Shaffer's staging directions of a Proscenium Arch. Director Nikolai Foster reportedly contacted Peter Shaffer for consultation on changing his stage directions of Amadeus, to adapt to the new stage. The ending of the production was also edited. In the original script, Salieri dresses as the grey figure who commissions the Requiem Mass and goes to see Mozart. At the end, Mozart pulls off the mask Salieri wears and discovers him. In this performance, Salieri goes to visit Mozart, but never pretends to be the figure, and simply ends up confessing.

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.

To celebrate Mozart's 250th birthday in 2006, BBC Radio 2 broadcast an eight-part adaptation by Neville Teller of Shaffer's play narrated by F. Murray Abraham as Salieri.

Awards and nominations

  • 1979 Evening Standard Award for Best Play
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1981 Tony Award for Best Play

See also


External links

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