Playbill, 1981 (Broadhurst Theatre)
Written byPeter Shaffer
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
Jane Seymour (Constanze Mozart) alongside Ian McKellen (Antonio Salieri) in Amadeus, c. 1981.

Amadeus is a play by Peter Shaffer which gives a fictional 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.

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 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 play's original run, Shaffer extensively revised his play, including changes to plot details; the following is common to all revisions.

The composer 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, then the court composer of the Austrian emperor, has not met Mozart but has heard of him and his music. He adores Mozart's compositions and is thrilled at the chance to meet him, during a salon at which some of Mozart's compositions will be played. But when he finally catches sight of Mozart, he is deeply disappointed to find him lacking the grace and charm of his compositions. 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. A devout Catholic all his life, Salieri 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 retaliating against his Creator. Salieri pretends to be 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, only the intervention of Joseph II 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 humiliates Constanze by forcing her to strip naked in front of him when she comes to him for help. He smears Mozart's character with the Imperial Court, ruining many opportunities for the composer.

A major theme in Amadeus is Mozart's repeated attempts to win the acceptance of Vienna's aristocracy with increasingly brilliant compositions, which are always frustrated either by Salieri's machinations or because the aristocrats cannot appreciate Mozart's innovations and willingness to challenge the accepted mores of classical music. Salieri attempts suicide with a razor in a last attempt to be remembered, leaving a false confession of having murdered Mozart with arsenic. He survives and his confession is met with disbelief, leaving him to wallow once again in mediocrity.

Background and production

The play used as incidental music mainly works by Mozart, for which in the first stage production arrangements were made by Harrison Birtwistle; the only piece included of Salieri being a “banal greeting march” on which Mozart extemporises mockingly to produce "Non più andrai" (the aria which closes Act 1 of Le nozze di Figaro).[1] Nicholas Kenyon argues that the play (and film) helped to rekindle interest in Salieri's music and increase performances of his operas.[1]

Historical accuracy

Shaffer used artistic licence in his portrayals of 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. In fact, there is evidence that they enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect.[2] As an example, Salieri later tutored Mozart's son Franz in music.[citation needed] He also conducted some of Mozart's works, in Mozart's lifetime and afterwards.[3][pages needed]

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).[4] Mozart scholar H. C. 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".[5]

Notable productions

Amadeus was first presented at the 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 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.[6] The cast also included Andrew Cruickshank (Rosenberg), Basil Henson (von Strack), Philip Locke (Greybig), John Normington (Joseph II) and Nicholas Selby (van Swieten).[7]

The play premiered on Broadway on 11 December 1980 at the Broadhurst Theatre, with Ian McKellen as Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart and Jane Seymour as Constanze.[8] 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 the favorite stage production that he had ever been in.[9] 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.[10] 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 (with Tadeusz Łomnicki as Salieri), then at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris with François Périer as Salieri.[11][12] The play was again directed by Polanski, in Milan, in 1999.[13]

In 1982, Richard Wherrett directed a Sydney Theatre Company production at the Theatre Royal, Sydney. It starred John Gaden as Salieri, Drew Forsythe as Mozart and Linda Cropper as Constanze, with Lyn Collingwood as Mrs Salieri and Robert Hughes as Venticello II. It ran from 6 April to 29 May 1982.[14] 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.[15]

The play was revived in 1998 at the Old Vic Theatre in London, directed again by Peter Hall and produced by Kim Poster. Starring in the play were Michael Sheen as Mozart, David Suchet as Salieri, Cindy Katz as Constanze and David McCallum as Joseph II. The play subsequently transferred to the Music Box Theatre, New York City, where it ran for 173 performances (15 December 1999 until 14 May 2000), and received Tony Award nominations for Best Revival and Best Actor in a Play (for Suchet's Salieri).[16].

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.[17] Rupert Everett played Salieri in a production at the refurbished Chichester Festival Theatre from 12 July through 2 August 2014.[18] 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.[19] It starred 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.[20][21]

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.[22] Amadeus was directed by Javad Molania in Tehran in March 2018 at Hafez Hall.[23][24][25] The play was directed by Işıl Kasapoğlu [tr] in Turkey in January/February 2020 at Uniq Hall Theatre, Istanbul.[26] A new production, scheduled for December 2022 at the Sydney Opera House, was announced in July 2022 with Michael Sheen as Salieri.[27]

Awards and nominations

In other media


In 1983, BBC Radio 3 aired an audio version directed by Sir Peter Hall which starred 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.[29] 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.[30] This version was re-broadcast 24 May – 2 June 2010 on BBC Radio 7.


Main article: Amadeus (film)

The 1984 film adaptation won the 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 (also nominated for Best Actor) 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.[31] While the focus of the play is primarily on Salieri, the film goes further into developing the characters of both composers.

Television series

In November 2022, it was announced that Joe Barton would be adapting Amadeus into a television series.[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b Kenyon, Nicholas. From Pushkin to Python – Antonio Salieri and La fiera di Venezia. Opera, May 2023, Vol 74 No 5, p529.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Hildesheimer, Wolfgang (1982) [1977]. Mozart. Translated by Faber, Marion. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. ISBN 0-460-04347-1.
  4. ^ Cairns, David (2006). Mozart and his Operas. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0520228986.
  5. ^ Robbins Landon, H. C. 1791 – Mozart's Last Year. Flamingo (Fontana Paperbacks), London, 1990, p. 181.
  6. ^ Josephdreams (2 July 1981). "Frank Finlay". Frank Finlay. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  7. ^ Hall, P, Goodwin J. The Peter Hall Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle. Hamish Hamilton, London, 1983, p. 461, footnote 1.
  8. ^ a b c ​Amadeus (1980–1983) at the Internet Broadway Database
  9. ^ Ian McKellen (2008). "Amadeus". Ian McKellen Stage. Archived from the original on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  10. ^ Thomas, Bob. "Hamill changes pace as star of Amadeus" Archived 12 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 20 July 1983
  11. ^ 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, p. 314
  12. ^ Darnton, Nina (21 July 1981). "Polanski on Polish Stage Amid Political Upheaval" Archived 11 September 2022 at the Wayback Machine. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  13. ^ Curti, Stefano (1 November 1999). "Roman Polanski-directed Amadeus Opens in Milan, Nov. 30", Playbill. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Amadeus". Archived from the original on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Terry Finn". IMDb.
  16. ^ "Complete List of 1999–2000 Tony Award Winners". Playbill. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  17. ^ "Neil Patrick Harris Is Mozart in Hollywood Bowl's Amadeus Live". Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  18. ^ Billington, Michael (18 July 2014). "Amadeus review – Rupert Everett's Salieri darkly rages at God". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  19. ^ "Amadeus 2016 | National Theatre". 23 May 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  20. ^ Billington, Michael (27 October 2016). "Amadeus review – stunning production pits Salieri against God, Mozart and his own orchestra". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  21. ^ "Amadeus 2018". 23 January 2017. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  22. ^ Amadeus to premiere at the Estates Theatre – Prague TV report 27 June 2017 Archived 7 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine accessed 4 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Amadeus to go on stage in Tehran". Honaronline.
  24. ^ "Amadeus on Stage in Tehran". Fars News Agency.[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ "Peter Shaffer's Iconic Play Amadeus at Hafez Hall". Financial Tribune. 4 April 2018.
  26. ^ "Amadeus seyirciyle buluştu" [Amadeus meets audience] (in Turkish). Tele1 [tr]. 13 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  27. ^ Jo Litson (12 July 2022). "Michael Sheen to star in Amadeus at SOH". Limelight. Retrieved 16 July 2022.
  28. ^ "Shaffer: Acclaimed Amadeus playwright". BBC Online. 30 December 2000. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  29. ^ Drama on 3 (2011). "Amadeus". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 2 January 2011.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  30. ^ Radio 2 Readings (2006). "Amadeus". BBC Radio 2. Retrieved 26 June 2008.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ Malgorzata Kurowska (1998). "Peter Shaffer's play 'Amadeus' and its film adaptation by Milos Forman". Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  32. ^ "'Amadeus': Sky Developing Mozart Drama Series from 'Giri/Haji' Writer Joe Barton & 'Patrick Melrose' Producer Two Cities". 2 November 2022.