Amadeus (play)

Amadeus is a play by Peter Shaffer which gives a highly fictionalized account of the lives of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, first performed in 1979. It was inspired by Alexander Pushkin's short 1830 play Mozart and Salieri, which Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov used in 1897 as the libretto for an opera of the same name.

Playbill, 1981
Written byPeter Shaffer
CharactersWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Antonio Salieri
Constanze Weber
Katherina Cavalieri
Emperor Joseph II
Count Orsini-Rosenberg
Baron Gottfried van Swieten
Giuseppe Bonno
Count Johann Kilian von Strack
Date premiered2 November 1979
Place premieredRoyal National Theatre
London, England
Original languageEnglish
SubjectBiography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
GenreDrama, tragedy
Setting1783–1825; Vienna, Austria; the Court of Joseph II

The play makes significant use 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 the settings for key scenes. It was presented successfully at the Royal National Theatre, London in 1979, then moved to Her Majesty's Theatre in the West End followed by a Broadway production. It won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play, and Shaffer adapted it for the 1984 film of the same name.


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. Speaking directly to the audience, he claims to have used poison to assassinate Mozart and 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 him 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 him lacking the grace and 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 his 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 with a razor in a last attempt to be remembered, leaving a confession of having murdered Mozart with arsenic. He survives, however, and his confession is met with disbelief, leaving him to wallow once again in mediocrity.

Background and production

Historical accuracy

Shaffer used artistic licence in his portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri. Documentary evidence suggests that there may have been some occasional antipathy between the two men, but the idea that Salieri was the instigator of Mozart's demise is not taken seriously by scholars of the men's lives and careers. While historically there may have been some actual rivalry and mild tension between Mozart and Salieri, there is also evidence that they enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect.[1] As an example, Salieri later tutored Mozart's son Franz in music. He also conducted some of Mozart's works, both in Mozart's lifetime and afterwards.[2]

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).[3] Mozart scholar HC Robbins Landon commented that "it may prove difficult to dissuade the public from the current Schafferian view of the composer as a divinely gifted drunken lout, pursued by a vengeful Salieri. By the same token, Constanze Mozart, she (in the film) of the extraordinary decollete and fatuous giggle, needs to be rescued from Schaffer's view of her."[4]

Notable productions

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. (Callow later appeared in the film version in a different role.) It was later transferred in modified form to Her Majesty's Theatre in the West End, starring Frank Finlay as Salieri.[5] The cast also included Andrew Cruickshank (Rosenberg), Basil Henson (von Strack), Philip Locke (Greybig), John Normington (Joseph II) and Nicholas Selby (van Swieten).[6]

The play premiered on Broadway on 11 December 1980 at the Broadhurst Theatre,[7] with Ian McKellen as Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart, and Jane Seymour as Constanze. It ran for 1,181 performances, closing on 16 October 1983, 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 Best Play and Best Actor for McKellen). In 2015, Curry stated in an interview that the original Broadway production was his favorite stage production that he had ever been in.[8] 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,[9] and John Thomas Waite. Also playing Constanze were Amy Irving, Suzanne Lederer, Michele Farr, Caris Corfman and Maureen Moore.

In June 1981, Roman Polanski directed and co-starred (as Mozart) in a stage production of the play, first in Warsaw, then at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris with François Périer as Salieri.[10][11] The play was again directed by Polanski, in Milan, in 1999.[12]

Adam Redfield (as Mozart) and Terry Finn (as Constanze) appeared in the 1984 Virginia Stage Company production, at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia, directed by Charles Towers.[13]

The play was revived in 1999 at the Music Box Theatre, New York City, directed again by Peter Hall and ran for 173 performances (15 December 1999 until 14 May 2000), receiving Tony Award nominations for Best Revival and Best Actor in a Play (David Suchet, who played Salieri).[14] 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, Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Constanze Mozart, and Michael York as Salieri. Leonard Slatkin conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra.[15]

Rupert Everett played Salieri in a production at the newly refurbished Chichester Festival Theatre from 12 July through 2 August 2014.[16] The cast included Joshua McGuire as Mozart, Jessie Buckley as Constanze and John Standing as Count Orsini-Rosenberg. Simon Jones played Joseph II. Peter Shaffer attended the play at the closing performance.

The play was revived at the National Theatre in London in a new production directed by Michael Longhurst, from October 2016 to March 2017.[17] It stars Lucian Msamati as Salieri alongside Adam Gillen as Mozart, Karla Crome as Constanze, Hugh Sachs as Count Orsini-Rosenberg and Tom Edden as Joseph II, accompanied with a live orchestra by the Southbank Sinfonia. The production sold out with rave reviews and returned to the Olivier Theatre at the NT with Msamati and Gillen reprising the roles of Salieri and Mozart from February to 24 April 2018, again with rave reviews.[18][19]

The play was performed at the Estates Theatre, where Don Giovanni was premiered in 1787, and where part of the 1984 film was shot, in 2017 for the first time in English in the Czech Republic, directed by Guy Roberts.[20]

Awards and nominations

  • 1979 Evening Standard Award for Best Play[21]
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play[22]
  • 1981 Tony Award for Best Play[22]

In other media


The 1984 film adaptation won an Academy Award for Best Picture. In total, the film won eight Academy Awards. It starred F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (winning the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance), Tom Hulce as Mozart, and Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze. The play was thoroughly reworked by Shaffer and the film's director, Miloš Forman with scenes and characters not found in the play.[23] 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 aired the play directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring the original cast of his National Theatre production. The cast included:

This radio production was re-broadcast on 2 January 2011 as part of Radio 3's Genius of Mozart season.[24]

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[25] (re-broadcast 24 May – 2 June 2010 on BBC Radio 7).

See also


  1. Brown, A. Peter (7 February 2009). "Amadeus and Mozart: Setting the Record Straight". The American Scholar. 61 (1). Archived from the original on 25 August 2010.
  2. Hildesheimer, Wolfgang: Mozart, 1977
  3. Cairns, David (2006). Mozart and his Operas. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0520228986.
  4. Robbins Landon, HC. 1791 – Mozart's Last Year. Flamingo (Fontana Paperbacks), London, 1990, p181.
  5. Josephdreams (2 July 1981). "Frank Finlay". Frank Finlay. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  6. Hall, P, Goodwin J. The Peter Hall Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle. Hamish Hamilton, London, 1983, p. 461, footnote 1.
  7. League, The Broadway. "Amadeus – Broadway Play – Original – IBDB".
  8. Ian McKellen (2008). "Amadeus". Ian McKellen Stage. Archived from the original on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  9. Thomas, Bob. "Hamill changes pace as star of 'Amadeus'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 20 July 1983
  10. Sokol, Stanley S. The Polish Biographical Dictionary: Profiles of Nearly 900 Poles Who Have Made Lasting Contributions to World Civilization Bolchazy Carducci Publishers Wauconda, Illinois 1992 page 314
  11. Darnton, Nina (21 July 1981). "Polanski on Polish Stage Amid Political Upheaval". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  12. Curti, Stefano (1 November 1999). "Roman Polanski-directed Amadeus Opens in Milan, Nov. 30 -". Playbill. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  13. "Terry Finn". IMDb.
  14. "COMPLETE LIST OF 1999–2000 TONY AWARD WINNERS | Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  15. "Neil Patrick Harris Is Mozart in Hollywood Bowl's Amadeus Live". Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  16. Billington, Michael (18 July 2014). "Amadeus review – Rupert Everett's Salieri darkly rages at God". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  17. "Amadeus 2016 | National Theatre". Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  18. Billington, Michael (27 October 2016). "Amadeus review – stunning production pits Salieri against God, Mozart and his own orchestra". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  19. "Amadeus 2018 | National Theatre". Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  20. Amadeus to premiere at the Estates Theatre - Prague TV report 27 June 2017 accessed 4 August 2019.
  21. "Shaffer: Acclaimed Amadeus playwright". BBC Online. 30 December 2000. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  22. IBDB. "Production Awards". Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  23. Malgorzata Kurowska (1998). "Peter Shaffer's play 'Amadeus' and its film adaptation by Milos Forman". Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  24. Drama on 3 (2011). "Amadeus". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
  25. Radio 2 Readings (2006). "Amadeus". BBC Radio 2. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
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