"Goodness means nothing in the furnace of Art."
The turning point in both stories is when Salieri declares war on God. Now, declaring war on God is no mean feat; such a scene can easily be melodramatic or sillyif you are particularly unfortunate, both. (An almost relevant analogyAs soon as I heard the storyline of Start Trek IV (the Enterprise goes to the center of the galaxy to meet God) I knew the movie would suck. Either it would turn out not to be God, which becomes anticlimactic, or it is God, and now that George Burns is dead, theres no one who could pull that role off.) Both play and film version of this sequence are tremendously effective, even though they approach the material in different ways. The differences demonstrate Shaffers understanding of the inherent differences of stage and film.
In the film Mozarts wife, Stanzi, surprises Salieri at his home to plead for Salieris assistance in placing Mozart as the music teacher to the Emperors daughter, Princess Elizabeth. She brings along some of Mozarts manuscripts, and Salieri views them with a sense of awe and dread. Its bad enough that this little creature writes such incredible music, but the manuscripts so no sign of revision. Mozart composes in his head, then simply transcribes that which is already finished. There is an exquisite scene of Salieri flipping through the manuscripts. As each score is revealed, we hear the music, and we can see Salieri's countenance shift through rapture to frustration and rage.
Salieri is both devastated and enthralled. He can no longer abide Gods injustice. Exclaiming, "Why did you give me the desire to be a great composer, then make me mute?!?" Salieri declares war on God. The most striking part of the scene is not the wordsthough they are, too, importantbut a single image: Salieri placing his crucifix in the fire. Earlier in the film we see him turn to a crucifix to thank God for his inspirationironically, its the inspiration for the March of Welcome that Mozart subsequently transforms. The sight of the crucifix being consumed perfectly captures what is taking place within Salieris mind and soul. It is a tremendous scene, and is my second favorite part of the movie (youll discover soon enough scene #1).
The same sequence plays quite differently on stage. The main reason for the change is fairly simple. Adding the elaborate opera sequences and parties meant that other sequences had to be trimmed. The film version is still quite effective, mind you, but on stage it is almost a production number.
The first time I saw the movie, a chill ran through me when Stanzi appeared at Salieris. I was convinced that Salieri was going to seduce her. And at first, things looked like they were heading that waythe cut of Stanzis dress left little to the imagination, Salieri stressed what they had in common; then finally Salieri offer her some "refreshment": Cappezio de VenereNipples of Venus. The name alone is pretty suggestive, but the confection is a Roman chestnut coated in brandy-soaked sugar. So, weve got small talk, revealing clothes, double entendres, and booze. Thank God Salieri didnt have any cigars!
The film doesnt pursue the seduction idea any further. The play however, keeps going, and going, and going Salieri himself invites Stanzi to visit one night when Mozart is performing. Salieri even makes a point of mentioning that his wife is out of town. [Salieris wife is never mentioned in the film, presumably so that no one would have to explain that "chastity" can refer to being faithful to ones spouse; it is not synonymous with abstinence.] One of the things that makes the scene so affecting is that Salieri frequently makes asides to the audience, about how embarrassed he was at the sordidness of his actions. Yet his hatred for Mozart forces him to proceed.
Salieri makes it clear to Stanzi that she will have to sleep with him in order to secure the position for Mozart. She leaves to consider the proposal while Salieri looks over Mozarts manuscripts. In the film the "declaration" is relatively briefthe image of the burning crucifix makes things pretty clear. A close up of a burning crucifix isnt really practical on stage, though. Instead, we get a declaration of war that falls just a few steps short of being a production number. F. Murray Abraham delivers the films declaration with a quiet, restrained fury. In the play, Salieri literally rails at the heavens.
The play even uses the Act structure to whet the audiences appetite further. After the younger Salieri makes his declaration, he becomes the older, narrating Salieri. He ends Act I by saying that he must go and relieve his bladder. When he returns, hell tell us about what happened with Stanzi, and of his war with Godduring the course of which, the battlefieldMozart must, like all battlefields, inevitably be destroyed.
The final phase of the declaration comes at the beginning of Act II. Stanzi returns, having decided to acquiesce; she basically walks in, sits down, and hikes up her skirt. But Salieri is no longer interested. He still wants her, but sleeping with her now would accomplish nothing. His quarrel used to be with Mozartboinking Mozarts wife would certainly be a victory.
But now, Salieris quarrel is with Godsleeping with Mozarts wife would accomplish nothing. So Salieri spurns Stanzi and sends her on his way. He then goes about making his first moves against God: He renounces his vow of service by resigning from a number public service committees; he renounces his vow of chastity by seducing his student, Katerina Cavalieri, and he makes his first action against Gods creature by recommending "a man of no talent whatsoever" to tutor the princess.