When Peter Shaffer's Amadeus opened at the National Theatre of Great Britain in November 1979, it was received enthusiastically by audiences and critics alike. One year after its premiere, London audiences began to line up at ticket offices at six in the morning on the day of performance. Shaffer revised the play extensively before its American debut in Washington, D.C., in November 1980. Soon after, the play opened on Broadway, where it won five Tonys, including a Tony for best drama of the 1980 season. The popularity of the play ensured the success of the 1984 film version, directed by Milos Forman, which received nominations for eleven Oscars and won eight, including best picture, best director, and best actor. Amadeus has also gained appreciative audiences internationally.
The play explores the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, the court composer for the Emperor of Austria in the late eighteenth century. Shaffer became interested in the relationship between the two composers after learning about Mozart's mysterious death. Although failing to find evidence that Salieri murdered Mozart, Shaffer admits, in an interview with Roland Gelatt, that ''by then the cold eyes of Salieri were staring at me. . . . The conflict between virtuous mediocrity and feckless genius took hold of my imagination, and it would not leave me alone." Critics have praised the play's craftsmanship and its penetrating psychological study of the effects of success and failure and the search for spirituality.