Amadeus: When The Irreverent Genius Meets The God Music Servant


Amadeus is the new theatre project by the versatile Russian film and theatre director Andrei Konchalovsky, based on the text by Peter Shaffer and staged at Teatro Quirino from November 19 to December 1. 

Amadeus was written by the English playwright and screenwriter Peter Shaffer in 1979. The author drew its source from Alexander Pushkin‘s short play Mozart and Salieri (Моцарт и Сальери, Mótsart i Sal’yéri), which also Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov used in 1897 as the libretto for an opera of the same name. 

Shaffer focuses on a presentation of a fascinating comparison between the extremely serious Salieri and the light-hearted Mozart in the form of a postmodern dramatic discourse, in which Shaffer emphasizes the special metaphoric and physical attributes available to the theater, using Salieri and not Mozart as a narrator.

It is interesting to note that Aleksandr Pushkin uses the same dramatic strategy in his play, which was published in 1832, nearly 150 years before the first version of Shaffer. Anyway, Shaffer makes use of grotesque exaggeration and black irony in a tragicomic way for his play, exasperating the duality of the double-protagonist structure in order to entertain, but also to underline the diametrically opposed characterizations of the two main roles. 

The adaptation by Konchalovsky presents Salieri as a God music servant, on the contrary Amadeus is politically incorrect; he is represented as a nonconformist and popular star of his time, whose only desire is to gain recognition and appreciation for his talent. From Konchalovsky’s point of view, Salieri is rather seen greedy for political status and wealth. But there are not only differences and competition between Mozart and Salieri, but similarities, especially in the state of suffering and loneliness that hold them together.

Antonio Salieri (Geppy Gleijeses) had a difficult childhood, with his mother dying when Salieri was only twelve years old. This tragic event forced him to make sacrifices and lead a straight-laced life in the shadow of his older brother Francesco, a monk from Padua. The old Salieri presented by Konchalovsky explains in his initial monologue, that the God imagined by his family is almost a sort of Habsburg ruler, who lives on the edge of his empire, while the God that Salieri invokes is the one who must grant him fame, not talent, but admiration and appraisal throughout Europe. Salieri is not interested in court life or escapades, he wants to win notoriety through perseverance and determination, and with a little help of his trustworthy “Breezies” (Venticelli), who inform him daily about what happens at the Court of Vienna. He wants to be awarded as the best composer of the Habsburg Empire, regardless of his real musical gifts.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Lorenzo Gleijeses), on the other hand, experiences an inner dispute from an early age. He feels love and hate for his father Leopold, who Amadeus calls “Papa Mozart”. He has a sort of reverential fear of his father. Leopold Mozart was an exceptional music teacher, who managed to capture the genius of his son. Being fragile and weak to the pleasures of the flesh, Amadeus could not have reached that level of greatness and genius that made him immortal without the unregulated rigor and addiction to music to which his father has accustomed him since childhood. 

Amadeus is subjugated by his dependence on his father, but at the same time he tries to repel it at all costs. Amadeus was already acclaimed as a brilliant composer at the age of five, Salieri began his musical training ten years later than the enfant prodige, and began to take music lessons only at the age of fifteen. Amadeus rushes into things, he is acclaimed in all Europe. Amadeus remembers when, as a young child, a snuffbox was given to him as a sign of gratitude by monarchs everytime they enjoyed his beautiful music. On the contrary, Salieri has made a career only in Vienna, in the capital of the Empire, with zealous and boring constancy, as a provincial officer, buried by boring and dusty paperwork.

Why Mozart and not Salieri? Because we remember the former as the absolute genius of music and the latter for having been his rival and for his livid envy towards his opponent. 

Konchalovsky tries to explain it to the audience through an original point of view, that of the old Salieri, who is, at the end of his career, consumed by regret. Mozart has lived like a burnt rock star in just thirty-six years, with an intensity that shakes the soul, with a vitality that emanated in his compositions. Assuming scientifically that he was not poisoned, his death could have been caused by septicemia, tuberculosis, kidney failure or, again, rheumatic fever. A fragile man who bore the weight of a great soul. Salieri perhaps envied this genetic exceptionality born with Mozart, which all his zeal and his court strategy could not counteract. He who died of senile dementia.

The Salieri of Konchalovsly is like a cruel stepfather who looks at himself through the mirror and wants to be told, at the end of his career, that he has left a mark in the history of music, even though he knows very well that his memory to posterity will be inextricably linked to the timeless fame of a genius of music, of whom Salieri is only a counterweight.

Salieri never dared to revolutionize the musical canons proposed by Gluck, Mozart did it. He arrived at the right time, when there was a need to subvert the rules of composition. Both composers belong to the classic period of music, between Baroque and Romanticism. The Enlightenment gave us the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution, and two revolutions: the American and the French.This new world, that Mozart and Salieri were facing, was full of contradictions. Amadeus was treated as an equal of the aristocrats, and, at times, still as a servant with his place among the personal valets and the cooks.

Emblematic is the memory on stage of the image of a little Mozart jumping into the arms of Empress Maria Theresa. Something that seems irreverent to the eyes of her son Joseph II (Giulio Farnese), who sometimes observes with amusement the leaps of joy of the unorthodox Amadeus. The composer shows up before him for the first time with the flap of his pants open, provoking astonishment in the Court dignitaries. They distance themselves at first, but in the end let themselves be infected by the vitality and nonconformity of Amadeus. Even Joseph II shows himself in public scratching his head under his wig, sitting in a rude manner on his throne, with dangling legs, rolling his wig on the index finger of his hand, like a modern basketball player.

Konchalovsky’s choice to have father and son play on stage is excellent. The spectator feels the tension, the affection and the generational conflict between the two main actors. 

Funny is the way the other characters are staged: Costanze Weber, the wife of Amadeus (Roberta Lucca), Count Johann Von Strack (Giuseppe Bisogno), Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg (Gianluca Ferrato) and Baron Gottfried van Swieten (Anita Pititto).


Khonchalovsky’s Amadeus might seem to an inattentive audience a simple theatrical transposition of the famous 1984 film by Czech director Miloš Forman, but one has to read between the lines, knowing how the Russian literary tradition influenced Konchalovsky’s play. Alexander Pushkin (Александр Сергеевич Пушкин) makes Mozart say:

А гений и злодейство — Две вещи несовместные. Не правда ль?”

That means in English: «And genius and villainy — Are two things incompatible, aren’t they?». Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Андреевич Римский-Корсаков) let Salieri ends his opera with the following words:

Did not Michelangelo kill for his commissions at the Vatican, or were those idle rumors?”

This is how Konchalosvky investigates, through his film on Michelangelo and his piece on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the beauty of genius in an imperfect human being.

Leila Tavi


Photos: courtesy of Teatro Quirino

Leila Tavi

Leila Tavi is a journalist specialized in Russian Politics and Culture and PhD c. in Russian History at the University of Vienna under the supervision of Prof. Andreas Kappeler. She studied Political Science in Vienna and Rome, graduating in History of Eastern Europe at Roma Tre University, with Prof. Francesco Guida and a thesis on travel reports about Saint Petersburg by West Europeans at the beginning of the XIX Century. Previously she obtained a degree in Foreign Languages, with a specialization in German Philology at the University of Rome «La Sapienza». Her new book "East of the Danube" is coming soon.