Monday, March 13, 2023





Messa da Requiem by Guiseppe Verdi.

Choreographer and Producer Christian Spuck. Conductor  Johannes Fritzsch. \assistant director  Jean-Francois Kessier. Stage designer Christian Schmidt. Artistic collaboration Stage Designer  Florian Schaaf. Costume designer Emma Ryott  Lighting designer Martin Gebhart. Dramaturge Michael Kuester, Claus Spahn. Chrus Master Christie Anderson. Soprano Eleanor Lyons. Mezzo Soprano  Caitlin Hulcup. Tenor Paul O’Neill. Bass Pelham Andrews. Festival Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre. March 8-11 2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Soprano Eleanor Lyons, the Adelaide Festival Chorus and Ballet Zurich

There is no other word for it. Christian Spuck’s production of Guiseppe Verdi’s is spectacular. It is a work of extreme splendor, involving almost two hundred musicians Messa da Requiem, dancers and chorus.  The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch transport Verdi’s sacred oratorio to celestial heights with the Adelaide Festival Chorus under the leadership of Christie Anderson swelling the singing with unparalleled power and variety. As if that is not enough to transcend the wonderment of Verdi’s composition for voice and orchestra, Spuck introduces almost forty dancers to endow the work with the human condition. 

 The sheer dynamism of Spuck’s choreographic genius is apparent in the grace and agility, strength and supple flexibility of the dancers of Ballet Zurich. Set on Christian  Schmidt‘s  dark and open stage, Spuck examines the secular character of Verdi’s requiem. He creates a community of artists, interacting and immersing themselves entirely in the passion and the power of a work that compels an audience to engage fully with the music, the singing and the dance. Spuck creates an operatic oratorio so beautifully staged and so powerfully emotive that we feel as though we are witnessing our own destiny and mortality played out in Messa da Requiem. We cannot evade the abiding truth in Verdi’s composition, the accompanying liturgy and Spuck’s astounding choreography that we are all travelers upon the path to death.


Verdi was criticized for the operatic influences in his oratorio. It is this that lends such power to Spuck’s choreography, Fritzsch’s orchestration and Christie Anderson’s choral direction. It is the power of the fusion of the grace and beauty of the ballet with the expressive imagery of the contemporary dance. It is the power of the music to move and transcend the sombre tone of the liturgical mass. It is the power of Pelham Andrews’ rich bass voice, threatening the acrid flames of Confutatis, tenor Paul O’Neill’s gentle sighing in Ingemisco, mezzo soprano Caitlin Hulcup’s darker, deeper vocal judgement in Liber Scriptus and soprano Eleanor Lyons’ superb singing with the chorus in Libera Me. Dressed in the black dress of mourning and dread Lyons’ voice soars with the plea for deliverance. The effect is striking.  

 Spuck’s imagery lends the work a majesty and ritualistic solemnity. Images of the crucifix, the shrouded body, the pieta and the seething mass of individuals mourning the dead and fearing their own judgement day fill the stage with universal fear and prayer for salvation. Spuck’s choreography responds to Verdi’s requiem to his friend Alessandro Manzoni with a staging that reverberates with human angst, desire and questioning. This is a brilliant requiem, probing the human condition and respecting the secular intent of Verdi’s composition. On an open stage designed by Christian Schmidt with appropriate costume design by Emma Ryott and lighting by Martin Gebhart, Spuck creates an ensemble of individuals. The Adelaide Festival Chorus is outstanding under Christie Anderson’s Chorus Mastership. It is no mean feat having to sing while running across the stage through the Dies Irae or crowding together to create the wave of villagers. It is all so tightly choreographed and visually expressive, a living image of the music.

Brahms, in response to criticism of “the almighty corrupter of artistic taste” by Hans von Bulow replied “Only a genius could write this” Only a genius could fuse the talents of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, the Adelaide Festival Choir and Ballet Zurich into a work that encapsulates Verdi’s patriotic fervor, tribute to his friend and a universality of the human condition. It is little wonder that a work as evocative as Verdi’s Messa da Requiem and as magnificently staged and interpreted musically and theatrically should bring the audience in the Festival Theatre spontaneously to their feet in a rousing standing ovation. Bravo!!   
Photos by Andrew Beveridge