BBC Radio 7, 24 May - 6 June 2010
Read by F. Murray Abraham (the Salieri of Milos Forman's Oscar-winning film version), this version of Shaffer's classic play of ambition won and lost was transformed into a first-person narrative. In ten separate episodes (which resembled confessions to the listener), Salieri revealed just how much he hated "the creature" Mozart - not only because of his genius, but because the younger composer was such a boor. In a society where politeness counted for everything - commissions, preferment, status - Mozart appeared as a rebel, the kind of person everyone tried their utmost to avoid. However Salieri could not do this, as he realized just how talented a composer Mozart was. The only way he could deal with Mozart was to deny him every opportunity for advancement. However, once Mozart had died in poverty at the age of only thirty-five, Saleri understood to his horror what he had done out of sheer self-interest. Hence his desire to justify himself to listeners.
As the story unfolded, Salieri emerged as a complex personality. On the one hand we sympathized with him, as we understood how Mozart's presence at court threatened everything he had striven for - reputation, talent, and status as Court Composer. On the other hand, Salieri's treatment of Mozart was nothing short of sadistic - particularly at the end, when Mozart and his wife Constanza were living in abject poverty. The ending seemed somehow appropriate; Mozart died young, a James Dean-esque figure guaranteed immortality, while Salieri lived on as "the patron saint of mediocrities," doomed to reflect on the consequences of his action.
When Amadeus opened at what was then the National Theatre in London in 1979, the critic James Fenton described it as "perfectly appalling." By contrast this version of the play came across as a compelling melodrama; the story of two outsize personalities battling for supremacy in the fish-tank like atmosphere of the eighteenth century Viennese court.