Adelaide Festival

Festival Review: Requiem

The Requiem, or Requiem Mass, derives from a Mass for the dead in the Catholic Church.


Presented by Adelaide Festival in association with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Festival Centre

Reviewed: 28 February 2020

Art is said to leave people one of three ways. They are either totally swept away by what the artist has created and seen beyond what the artist is trying to portray. There are others that are totally repulsed by what they have seen and can’t comprehend what the artist was trying to bring through. Then there are those that are on the fence. They like what they see, but then there is something about it that doesn’t gel for them.

This production of Mozart’s Requiem is a work of art. On opening night, there were those that were on their feet before the curtain call had even commenced, there were those that were reassessing their expensive night out, then there was people like me who loved the majority of the production, but were left questioning certain artistic elements. If this review was on the musical performance alone, it could not be faulted. However, the staging, it…..even as I write I’m still questioning elements of it.

The Requiem, or Requiem Mass, derives from a Mass for the dead in the Catholic Church. The Requiem Mass, over the years, is notable for many musical compositions, and often was a commissioned piece from a wealthy member of society to honor a deceased family member. Over time, the dramatic character of the text began to appeal to more and more composers, to the point the requiem became a genre of its own. Many of the later requiems, such as Verdi’s, are essentially concert pieces rather than liturgical works.

Mozart was commissioned in July, 1791, to write Requiem by an anonymous intermediary on behalf of Franz von Walsegg. Mozart was no longer in fashion at the court of the new emperor Leopold II, so desperately in need of money, he accepted the commission, despite being over worked with other compositions. At the time of Mozart’s death on December 5, 1791, only the first two movements were in a full completed state. Several other movements were complete in skeleton or only vocal parts were fully notated. Several prominent orchestral parts were briefly notated, but nothing in full. When clear Mozart would not see out the completion of the work, his wife, Constanze, asked a student of Mozart’s, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, to complete the score, in order for her to receive the final payment for the commission.

The original conductor of this production, Raphael Pichon and director Romeo Castellucci could hear the theatricality in Mozart’s Requiem, and working closely together they created this entirely new staging. This production is based on a musical corpus, combining sacred and secular work (all compositions of Mozart) in between the various movements of the Requiem. In contrast to the score, Castellucci has developed a simple staging concept that turns this mass for the dead from both a reflection on death and sorrow, but also a celebration of life.

This insertion of the additional works by Mozart works brilliantly. As Mozart’s compositions are already dramatic and audibly theatrical, they enhance an already spectacular work. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of maestro Rory Macdonald, is faultless. They tackle the complexity of Requiem with precision, and at times the delicacy that is needed to create a feast for the ears. Sitting in the auditorium on opening night, I could have just closed my eyes and listened to majestic sound they created.

The Adelaide Festival Chorus, made up of members of the Adelaide Chamber Singers and the State Opera Chorus, under the direction of Chorus Master Brett Weymark were sublime.  Their blending and approach to the choral score was simply divine.

The five solists: Soprano, Siobhan Stagg; Alto, Sara Mingardo; Tenor, Martin Mitterrutzner; Bass, David Greco; and Treble, Luca Shin, added the magical touch to this production. Each soloists voice was world class, however it was Mingardo’s voice that truly was captivating. Her stage presence and emotiveness was captivating, and had a real richness to her solo moments.

The staging of this production is what has left me on the fence. It is not a typical opera or performance of Mozart’s Requiem. There isn’t a choir on rises, the orchestra and then the four soloists. Nor is there a running narrative throughout. It can best be described as ‘living art’. 

Requiem opens with a black stage, with a bed, side table and TV with an elderly woman moving through her ‘room’ before going to bed. Once in bed, she slowly vanishes, symbolizing her passing. We next see her in what I presume is the after life and the Adelaide Festival Chorus and soloists take us on a celebration of life after death.

Incorporated into the staging were many snippets of famous works of art that reflect and celebrate death. Some of these were so subtle, that they were easily missed. Did this staging work? Mostly. My concern at times was how some of the staging connected to the text of the Requiem. It felt at times it was trying to be too modern and ‘out of the box’, where at times, it mirrored the text so perfectly it was a real joy to witness.

However, this criticism aside, the visual staging, as a stand-alone, is stunning. At one moment we are looking at a black canvas, the next, a stark white one, and then splashes of coloured paint are thrown across the back drop and soil is spread over the ground. The simple changes between each set are genius. The clearing of the ground by tilting the floor adds to the theatrics of this production.

It is so pleasing to see internationally acclaimed productions, such as this new staging of Requiem, coming through Adelaide. The Adelaide Festival, which this is part of, continues to bring new and exciting works to Adelaide audiences, and this, the 60th anniversary of the festival, certainly has several magnificent morsels for audiences to wet their appetite over.

I would encourage those of you who can afford to see Requiem (it does come with a pretty pricey ticket price) to witness this piece of art for yourself so you can make up your own mind, however, the remainder of the season has sold out.

Review by Ben Stefanoff

Rating out of 5: 4

Season is SOLD OUT

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