The Adelaide Festival has announced that the operatic centerpiece for its 2020 program will be Romeo Castellucci’s revelatory staging of Mozart’s Requiem, which dazzled audiences and critics when it premiered at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence in France earlier this month.

Mozart's Requiem, Adelaide FestivalRomeo Castellucci’s Requiem at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence. Photograph © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

Mozart’s final work, which he was still completing when he died, has been transformed by the renowned, radical director into a powerful stage production, hailed by French newspaper Le Figaro as “a splendid meditation of the beauty of the world and its disintegration”. Other critics also sang its praises. “The mass of the dead becomes an ode to life,” said Libération. Le Point described the production as “staggering”, while Die Deutsche Bühne said: “With Mozart’s Requiem, Romeo Castellucci has become a theatrical creative genius”.

Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield, the Joint Artistic Directors of the Adelaide Festival, were in Aix-en-Provence for the premiere. “We went to the dress rehearsal in a kind of jet-lagged funk and then, of course, we were at the opening as well the next day. It was so moving, the audiences were just immediately electrified and [there was] thunderous applause,” Healy tells Limelight.

Castellucci’s musical collaborator, Raphaël Pichon, who conducted the production in Aix-en-Provence, has included rarely performed pieces of music by Mozart, and Gregorian chant between the movements to magnificent effect. Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald, who is widely admired for his Mozart interpretations, will bring the production to life in Adelaide with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Romeo Castellucci’s Requiem at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence. Photograph © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

The soloists from Aix-en-Provence – Italian alto Sara Mingardo, Italian bass Luca Tittoto, Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg, and Austrian tenor Martin Mitterrutzner – will perform in Adelaide with a 36-member chorus and members of Australian Dance Theatre.

Castellucci has directed two previous productions at the Adelaide Festival: Giulio Cesare, his controversial take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, in 2000; and Go Down, Moses, which reflected on the Jewish Exodus from a female perspective, in 2016.

“I enjoy breaking an idea which is fixed, so for me the most interesting way for an audience to approach Mozart is as if they’re experiencing it with new eyes and new ears and in a way re-examining his music for the first time. Requiem is a celebration, a festival, an opera and a dance which is full of joy. It represents our life: the reason life is so often beautiful and so precious, is that we won’t be here forever,” said Castellucci.

Speaking to Limelight, Siobhan Stagg says that working with Castellucci was “a transformative experience for everyone involved.”

“Romeo is a very kind and quiet man; a deep thinker. He wanted this Requiem to be a celebration of life, as well as a poignant reflection on extinction, both literally and philosophically. Ritual and folkdance feature strongly. The production demands everything of the people on stage, everything about them that is alive: their breath, their bodies as they dance, their mental stamina and of course their voices. The result is a compelling and uplifting celebration of life,” says Stagg.

Mozart's Requiem, Adelaide FestivalRomeo Castellucci’s Requiem at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence. Photograph © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

Stagg says that Castellucci took the figurative idea of looking back through life. “Throughout the show, we see three women representing the same person at different stages of life, beginning with an elderly lady, then a young woman and a nine-year-old girl,” she says. “The piece finishes with a real baby, alone and centre stage, surrounded by the remnants of the cast’s exertion during the performance. The final image is slightly different every night and strangely powerful – the audience often sits in stunned silence for seconds after the curtain falls.”

“The power of Romeo’s set design is its simplicity. He starts with a relatively plain canvas – working in black and white, and gradually brings in splashes of colour using costumes, paint, blood, feathers, ash, earth and light, to great dramatic effect. I feel the most impressive spectacle comes from the human beings on stage, particularly the choir, who are required to dance up a storm while continuing to sing sublimely. They are the heroes of this production,” says Stagg.

Romeo Castellucci’s Requiem at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence. Photograph © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

Requiem is the first of three major operatic production to be co-produced and co-commissioned between Adelaide Festival and Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence over the next three years. The initiative follows the success of the first three festivals programmed by Healy and Armfield, each of which had an opera as the centerpiece – Saul, directed by Barrie Kosky in 2017, Brett Dean’s Hamlet in 2018, and The Magic Flute from the Komische Oper Berlin in 2019. Each of them sold out and won a Helpmann Award for Best Opera.

“When we announced Saul, we said that we saw [opera] as a central plank of our program,” Healy tells Limelight. “There is so much extraordinary work happening in that art form around the world. I would say that Barrie Kosky is remaking the art form, and I would say the same about Castellucci in that you immediately understand why so many people in generations past have utterly fallen in love with this art form. [His Requiem] is absolutely edge-of-your-seat, thrilling, powerful, moving. It’s not an esoteric art form of yesteryear, it is something that is absolutely contemporary, and something that you feel buzzes with electricity. It is utterly alive and of now,” says Healy.

“We’ve had sell-out attendances [for the first three operas we have programmed]. We are, I think, showing that there is a huge appetite in Australia for work of this quality and a hunger to see what the great performance makers of our time are creating, and how they are energising this art form for new generations.”


Requiem will play at the Adelaide Festival Theatre from February 28 – March 4. Tickets go on sale on August 8 at 9am. Book at adelaidefestival.com.au or BASS 131 246

The rest of the 2020 Adelaide Festival program will be announced on October 16