Mozart never did finish his Requiem. His student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr used notes he had penned and scraps of paper to complete the score performed here, alongside other additions, by director Romeo Castellucci (making his third appearance at the Adelaide Festival) and his musical collaborator, Raphaël Pichon. This is a co-production between the Adelaide Festival and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Hence the ‘Atlas of Extinction’, distractingly projecting names of a series of objects, places, things and ideas, that have or will become extinct; in fact everything, included many Adelaide-specific names.

Mozart's <i>Requiem</i> © Tony Lewis
Mozart's Requiem
© Tony Lewis

The work began with an a cappella plainchant Christus factus est, taken from the Epistle to the Philippians, used extensively in the Prayer of the Church on the days before Easter as if echoing from the vault of a gothic cathedral. Mozart intended his Requiem it to be performed in a church funeral Mass, yet this was the only connection to anything ecclesiastical contained within this production. While the singing of the Adelaide Festival Chorus (from members of the State Opera of South Australia and Adelaide Chamber Singers) and the soloists, and the playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, were remarkable, there seemed little that connected with the actions, costumes and dancing of the chorus and Australian Dance Theatre dancers who accompanied them. It was as if the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. While all was done brilliantly, the unanswered question was why was it done at all. However, having said that, I was held spellbound for the uninterrupted ninety minutes or more of the performance. The music was sublime and, accompanied by all the colour and movement happening on stage, took on a different life as a facilitator of engrossing music theatre.

Mozart's <i>Requiem</i> © Tony Lewis
Mozart's Requiem
© Tony Lewis

Undoubtedly the remarkably versatile chorus was the star of the night, their rich singing so precise (the altos thrillingly soaring eagle-like, the basses rich and sonorous), their costume changes so quickly done (from casual summer wear to Eastern European-style folk costumes, even to shedding their clothes while singing “let perpetual light shine on them”). Not to be outdone, young treble Luka Shin, emerged dribbling a human skull as if it were a soccer ball, to stand centre stage, hands by his side, and with a voice remarkably sweet and true, displaying an effortless confidence beyond his age, captured and held me spellbound as he sang a little song Mozart had written for his wife in 1782.

Mozart's <i>Requiem</i> © Tony Lewis
Mozart's Requiem
© Tony Lewis

The soloists play second fiddle to the chorus in this opus. Nevertheless we were entertained by four remarkable singers, three of whom had sung in Aix-en-Provence last summer: soprano Siobhan Stagg, returning to her homeland, mezzo-soprano Sara Mingardo, and tenor Martin Mitterrutzner, joined by Australian bass David Greco. They were well matched and sounded best when they sang together. Stagg was a joy to listen to, with a confident voice as sweet as summer peaches and as rich and satisfying as a glass of fine Hellyers Road whisky. Mingardo sang warmly and engagingly. While her alto role lacked long solos, she excelled, her commanding voice soaring in the Tuba mirum, the most outstanding section of Mozart’s Dies irae music. Both Mitterrutzner and Greco impressed. There were moments when Greco’s silky voice soared on high like a wave cresting on its journey to the shore. All blended beautifully and equally, making harmony and cohesion that must surely have thrilled conductor Rory MacDonald. It certainly impressed the audience.

Mozart's <i>Requiem</i> © Tony Lewis
Mozart's Requiem
© Tony Lewis

While the audio participation of singers and orchestra was outstanding, so much in this production relied on the visual, an addition that Mozart could probably have never imagined. It was like adding another dimension. It certainly worked, although it changed the thrust of what Mozart’s intentions would have been. Mozart’s composition is more than two centuries old, and this production gives it a freshness. We live in the age of the visual image, and Castellucci/Pichon certainly gave us a truckload of images.

Mozart's <i>Requiem</i> © Tony Lewis
Mozart's Requiem
© Tony Lewis

Most engrossing was starting the performance with an elderly woman on stage, changing to an adult, then a teenager, then a child, concluding with the In paradisum (May the angels lead you into paradise) as all four gently carried an infant, placed him tenderly on the floor, then left as the singing concluded. The theatre was encased in a long palpable silence except for a few gurgles from the contented child, all alone on the large stage, on whom, eventually, the curtain slowly lowered. A powerfully dramatic conclusion.

****1