One of the biggest differences between film and stage is simple--the camera can move, but the audience can't. All those establishing shots, pans, and tight closeups are right out on stage. We've already mentioned one example of this, the differences in the "war declaration" scenes. but nowhere is this difference seen more clearly that in the events surrounding the writing of Mozart's Requiem. The move and the play are completely different, yet both are utterly compelling.
In the movie, the Requiem sequence grows out of Salieri's viewing of Don Giovanni, where he realizes a terrible way that he can triumph over God. Disguised with the same costume worn earlier in the film by Leopold Mozart, Salieri goes to Mozart to commision a requiem mass. The narrating Salieri, explaining his plan to the priest, describes Mozart's funeral:
Imagine it: The cathedral, all of Vienna present . . . his coffin--Mozart's little coffin--and then, in that silence . . . Music! A Divine music bursts out over them all. A great mass of death, a requiem for Wolfgang Mozart--composed by his devoted friend, Antonio Salieri! "What sublimity, what depth . . . what passion in the music . . . Salieri has been touched by God at last!" [then, savagely] And God forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! Me, for once, in the end, laughing at him!
Salieri, however, still has to get Mozart to finish the requiem, get the requiem, and kill Mozart. For an moment Salieri has success literally in his hands. After Mozart collapses at the premiere of The Magic Flute, Salieri takes Mozart back to his apartment. Terrified that the dark figure might return and demand the finished requiem--and not knowing that in a sense, that is just what has happened--Mozart insists on dictating the "Confutatis" to Salieri.
The scene is extraordinary. Mozart, in bed, pale, feverish, and clearly on the verge of death, is even in his last extremity composing. As he dictates each individual part, we hear each part, and see, more clearly than at any other point in the film, what a genius the man is. At the same time, we see Salieri utterly overwhelmed with the music. He's writing it down, but he says, "I don't understand," because he cannot bring all the different parts together in his head.
Nonetheless, he's on his way to winning the war, until Stanzi returns unexpectedly from a trip to Baden. She takes the requiem and locks it up, forbidding Mozart to do any more work on the piece that has obsessed him. And then Mozart dies; as Salieri describes it, God kills Mozart to insure that Salieri won't be able to have even one shred of glory. The sequence ends with Mozarts funeral--which seems dismal enough--the Lacrymosa of the Requiem in the background, Stanzi and her son walking in the rain next to the catafalque. We don't understand the real shame of the situation until we get to the graveyard and see Mozart's body, wrapped in a winding sheet, unceremoniously dumped into a mass pauper's grave. The final indignity is the sexton dumping lime into the pit as the Requiem builds to its final, reverberant "Amen."
The play takes an entirely different approach. For one thing, it is a bit more historically accurate with regard to the Requiem. A masked figure did indeed commission the work, but it was at the behest of a nobleman who intended to pass off the work as his own. In the play, Salieri was simply trying to reduce Mozart to destitution--as Salieri puts to, to "starve out the God." Mozart has already begun to feel the effects of malnutrition combined with excess drinking.
But when Mozart tells Salieri of the masked figure who is haunting him, Salieri is inspired. He gets a similar costume, and each night at 1 am stands outside Mozart's apartment. The first night, he held up seven fingers--seven days left. Each night he would show Mozart one day less. On the final night, Mozart opens the window and beckons for the masked figure to come up. Almost against his own wishes, Salieri enters.
There begins one of the most chilling scenes you are likely to witness.
Mozart, thinking that Salieri is the other masked figure, desperately presents Salieri with the finished Kyrie, hoping that will buy his some more time. Salieri looks at the score, while the audience hears the opening bars of the Requiem. Salieri, seeing in this new work God laughing at him again, tears the score in half. Mozart, Asks "Why? Is it not good?" to which Salieri replies that yes, it is good. Salieri then tears off a corner of the paper, raises it in the manner of Communion, and continues:
"I eat what God gives me. Dose after dose. For all of life. His poison. We are both poisoned, Amadeus. I with you: you with me." Horrified, Mozart moves behind Salieri, and a scene reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera, removes Salieri's mask.
Salieri: Ecco mi. [Behold me.] Antonio Salieri. Ten years of my hate have poisoned you to death.
Mozart: Oh God!
Salieri: God?! . . .God will not help
you! God does not Help! . . .
(Mozart crawls under a table, as if to hide.)
Die, Amadeus! Die, I beg you, die! . . .Leave me alone, ti imploro! Leave me alone at last! Leave me alone! Alone! Alone! Alone! Alone!
It is simply too much for Mozart. He collapses, screaming out "PAPAAAA!!" Demented, he starts talking to his father, singing lullabies in an infantine voice.
Salieri: (Quietly) Reduce the man: reduce the God. Behold my vow fulfilled. The profoundest voice in the world reduced to a nursery tune.
Salieri leaves. Stanzi then appears, just in time for Mozart's death.
Both movie and play are affecting, but for different reasons. In the movie, we see the musical gulf between the two composers crystallized as Salieri struggles to make sense of the score. In the play, we are transfixed by the utter fury of Salieri, horrified not just by his actions, but also by the result--Salieri has apparently succeeded in destroying God's creature. But he discovers soon enough that his success is a transient one indeed.