Adelaide festival to stage Verdi’s Requiem with a cast of hundreds – and a star choreographer

After Covid thwarted two attempts to bring out Christian Spuck’s acclaimed Messa da Requiem, the festival has finally announced it as next year’s centrepiece

For Adelaide festival’s 2023 opera centrepiece a cast of almost 200 singers, dancers and musicians will take the stage under the direction of one of the world’s most celebrated choreographers.

Dance will be foregrounded in Messa da Requiem: the celebrated production of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece Requiem by the German choreographer Christian Spuck, which debuted in Zurich in 2016.

The festival production will mark the conclusion of Spuck’s decade-long tenure as artistic director of Ballett Zürich, before the 52-year-old takes up residence with the Berlin State Ballet.

Christian Spuck’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece Messa da Requiem, featuring Ballett Zürich
Christian Spuck’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece Messa da Requiem, featuring Ballett Zürich. Photograph: Gregory Batardon

Covid-19 thwarted the former Adelaide co-directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy’s bids to bring Messa da Requiem to Australia in 2020 and 2021; the festival’s incoming director, Ruth Mackenzie, has reeled it in.

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Thirty-six of Ballett Zürich’s artists will arrive in Australia early next year in preparation, joining about 170 singers, dancers and musicians for the Verdi masterwork – one of the most flamboyant funeral masses ever written.

Its hellfire and brimstone Dies Irae (Days of Wrath) chorus has weaved its way into popular culture to an extent only eclipsed by Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The urge by creatives to wrench it from its oratorio straitjacket has led to it being reimagined as the Fukushima nuclear disaster (Oper Köln, 2011) and the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center (New York Metropolitan Opera, 2021).

Spuck’s acclaimed production, which was filmed by Jürg Gautschi on its debut, has been hailed as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” triumph: a cross-genre tour de force of classical repertoire and contemporary dance.

The director/choreographer followed it up with a 2019 production of Schubert’s Winterreise, which collected the world’s richest dance prize, the Benois de la Danse. With a purse of US$1m, the International Dance Association’s awards held in Moscow each year are considered the Oscars of the dance world.

For Messa da Requiem, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor, German-born and trained Johannes Fritzsch, will conduct the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Festival Chorus. The four principal artists are all Australians: the tenor Paul O’Neill, the soprano Eleanor Lyons, the mezzo soprano Caitlin Hulcup and the bass Pelham Andrews.

Christian Spuck’s Messa da Requiem in Zurich
Christian Spuck’s Messa da Requiem debuted in Zurich in 2016. Photograph: Carlos Quezada
  • Messa da Requiem will be staged at the Adelaide Festival Theatre from 8-1 March 2023. The full 2023 Adelaide festival program will be launched on 9 November


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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