Printable CopyREQUIEM
The Adelaide Festival
Adelaide Festival Theatre
Until 04 Mar 2020

Review by Tony Busch

Adelaide Festival
Festival Theatre
Until March 4

How should one react when confronted with death? If that confrontation comes in the form of Romeo Castellucci’s production, “Requiem”, the answer is with awe, grace and acceptance.

Much has been speculated about the masterwork Mozart left unfinished at his death. Whatever the circumstances of its creation, and the fact that it was completed by his student, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, it is recognised as a pinnacle of compositional genius.

In the preceding years, Mozart had been developing a new approach to orchestration, a new contrapuntal language and new cadences. This is partly what imbues the work with such a strong sense of theatricality. This is not a requiem for a single person, not a musical accompaniment to a church service; this is a requiem for mankind and Castellucci has achieved something almost miraculous in creating a vehicle able to carry such import.

Raphael Pichon has added several layers to Castellucci’s rich conception with judicious additions to the original work. From the initial Gregorian chant, “Christus Factus Est”, to the concluding “In Paradisum”, these additions flow seamlessly within the threads of the original Requiem to extend the music into a rich and cohesive tapestry of sound.

The four soloists – soprano Siobhan Stagg, alto Sara Mingardo (who delivers an amazingly controlled piano conclusion to “Oh Gottes Lamm” while slowly assuming a supine position on the stage) tenor Martin Mitterrutzner and bass David Greco – are equally superb, providing layered performances rich in emotion.

The Adelaide Symphony delivers another stunning contribution under the baton of Rory MacDonald and Brett Weymark makes an effective Choir Master and Associate Conductor.

But it is the choir who must take the lion’s share of credit. Castellucci asks so much of them. They must dance, sometimes vigourously, remember copious choreography, sing in challenging physical positions, change settings and costumes on stage, and eventually end up huddled together as a naked, humbled cohort, all the while never missing a cue, maintaining amazing breath control and sounding sensational. Bravi!

To try to describe the sequence of events would be to do them an injustice as the underlying strength of this production is the simplicity of its ideas and the complexity of its communication. Some of the imagery may be confusing but there are sequences of such simple beauty they can take the breath away. Suffice to say there are moments of pure poetry, of confronting associations, of rich symbolism and of raw emotion.

The litany of extinctions, projected on the back wall of the set, serves as a sober reminder that everything is transient and the local inclusions, together with the unexpected Australian voices at the beginning of the piece, reinforce the idea that we, as an audience, are part of what is taking place on stage, not isolated on our island but included in the great calamity of life.

This “Requiem” certainly begins with death but ends with new life. This is not a mass for the dead, it is a celebration of continued existence and an offer of hope that somehow, somewhere, in some way, life will go on.