Messa da Requiem: a feast for the senses

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Christian Spuck’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was shown exclusively at Adelaide Festival last week; we were lucky enough to see it. The final production on Saturday received thunderous applause and a 10 minute standing ovation. It’s been a long time in the planning by Adelaide Festival but COVID had other plans.

Messa da Requiem

Christian Spuck has been director of Ballett Zürich since the 2012/13 season. He has been appointed Artistic Director of Staatsballett Berlin as of the 2023/24 season. His production of Messa da Requiem premiered in Zurich as a co-production of Oper and Ballett Zürich, Switzerland’s largest professional ballet company in 2016.


Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was first performed, in a church, in 1874. While the text is quite Catholic talking about God and damnation or acceptance into Heaven, Spuck says if you don’t know the text and simply listen to the music you don’t find it as threatening as the text. Orchestrally it isn’t designed for churches and in fact some Catholic churches banned Verdi’s Messa da Requiem.


The Adelaide Festival performances of Messa da Requiem were performed in Latin with no surtitles, which is quite unusual for an operatic performance. However, when interviewed Christian Spuck explained that he didn’t want the audience to be weighed down in the overly religious text. You can hear the fear of death, and the comforting, without needing to know the lyrics. Spuck, in interview with ABC said that Verdi’s Messa is a celebration of life, not a celebration of death.


Even if you think you’ve never heard Verdi’s Messa da Requiem before, one part of it, which reoccurs throughout the performance will be familiar to you. Movement II: Dies irae has been used in multiple ads and films over the years. This part of Messa da Requiem is perhaps also one of the most powerful. You instantly relate it to impending doom and associate it with violence.

Christian Spuck’s production of Messa da Requiem for Adelaide Festival brought over 170 Adelaide singers and musicians together with 36 dancers from Ballett Zürich. That makes it Adelaide Festival’s largest production to date.


Spuck offered a bold, contemporary approach to Verdi’s requiem mass. The chorus and most of the dancers were dressed in black. One female dancer was dressed in a nude-toned dress. Two male dancers wore flesh-coloured outfits covered in goldish flecks. They would writhe around when on stage perhaps representing the fight against death, or the grieving of someone who has died.


Spuck’s choreography offers spectacular visual moments when the considerably large chorus are on stage. The chorus aren’t just singers in this production, they are also dancers. Running from one corner of the stage to another, under his choreography, is co-ordinated yet still gives the feeling of a frenzy. We see the chorus transformed into a giant tidal wave, and even a ship’s bow as they rush towards front right of the stage and some climb upon the others.

Messa da Requiem
Image: Andrew Beveridge

The dancers from Ballett Zürich impress with their coordinated movements and strong arm and leg movements. The female dancers seen in the struggle against death powerfully run to the front of the stage and convincingly portray the struggle of being held back when the male dancers rush to constrain them.


The four soloists Soprano Eleanor Lyons, Mezzo Soprano Caitlin Hulcup, Tenor Paul O’Neill, and Bass Pelham Andrews all impressed with their powerful performances. Verdi’s Messa da Requiem is said to be challenging to sing. The orchestra under Johannes Fritzsch’s conducting performed the powerful, varied score.


The set, designed by Christian Schmidt, appears fairly simple in comparison to previous Adelaide Festival opera productions but it’s hides some secrets, which are revealed throughout the show. What appear to be charcoal grey walls are in fact chalkboards which are written on by the Adelaide Festival chorus at one point in the show, and walked on by one of the dancers later still. This perhaps represents our life stories and what we leave behind.

Messa da Requiem
Image: Andrew Beveridge

The ground is covered in a blackish ash (which Spuck calls black snow), which floats when kicked by the dancers, a symbol of what is left when someone has departed this world. The only other items on stage are two black desks and two chairs. The chairs are used at times by the soloists. The desks are used in one of the dances. The original set and costumes from the Oper and Ballett Zürich production are currently in Amsterdam so Adelaide Festival needed to create/supply those for its Australian season.


Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was not designed to be staged as a dance production but we are so thankful that Christian Spuck had that vision and that Adelaide Festival brought the production to Adelaide and to Australia.


Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Festival.


More Adelaide Festival content below:

So Much Myself: Piano Portraits at Adelaide Festival tells a millennium of stories celebrating discovery and courage

The Cage Project: piano as you’ve never heard it before

Cédric Tiberghien is coming to Australia for recitals and the world premiere of The Cage Project


For more events with French and Francophone links happening in Australia this month, see our What’s on in March.



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Chris Mouron talks about adapting The Little Prince to stage

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Little Prince show is coming to the Sydney Opera House at the end of the month. We spoke with Chris Mouron, playwright and co-director of The Little Prince before her arrival in Australia.

Chris Mouron, you are the dramaturge and co-director of the show The Little Prince which is soon going to be played at the Sydney Opera House. Tell us a little about the show. What can Australian audiences expect?

When we started working on the show, Anne and I, straight away we shared our ideas with the third accomplice of this creation: Terry Truck. And when the music started coming to life, I immediately felt like putting the essential words of the book in it. That’s how the role of the narrator was born and that he is invited into this world of dance and acrobatics. Anne and I are very complementary. She comes from the world of dance, of gest, of grace. I come from the world of music, of words. Our two experiences are completely different but complete each other wonderfully.


In 1996, we started experimenting with this mixture of cross-arts, which some people have called “a new genre” since the creation of our The Little Prince. It is normally hard to mix these two worlds, these two languages. For The Little Prince, it was obvious and exciting. The Little Prince is an universal and timeless story. I hope with all my heart that the Australian audiences, like those in Paris and Dubai, will be transported by the show, will travel with the Little Prince, and will rediscover the emotion and imagination of the book.

Image: Philippe Hanula


What attracted you to The Little Prince? What do you look for in a book when you’re looking to adapt it to stage?

Adapting a masterpiece is the most difficult things that there is. And The Little Prince is a masterpiece of poetry and of emotion which has always affected me as an author. I can only adapt what inspires me because adapting requires a lot of inspiration and creation. And my primary goal in adapting the work was to extract the essential words of the work without distorting the overall message. I took extreme care to respect every single comma of Saint-Exupéry’s words in the sentences I chose from the book, and to respect his words even when I adapted his prose in song form. The result was quite astonishing, speaking to music in a kind of ‘Sprechgesang’ as the Germans call it, or a kind of ‘slam’.


Is the show faithful to the book The Little Prince?

Anne and I stayed totally faithful to this book that we love. We wanted to render as much as possible of its poetry, its philosophy, its beauty. We just took the liberty of exploring the totally visionary side of Saint-Exupéry: Our vain man has mobile phones in his pockets to take selfies, our star-counting businessman is invaded by computers and is over-connected. The Little Prince takes care of his planet and sends a very clear and important ecological message.


The Little Prince
Image: Philippe Hanula


Do you recall when you read The Little Prince the first time? What effect did it have on you?

I didn’t read it, I listened to it… I was at school and the teacher asked us to listen to the disc which had recently been recorded by the wonderful actor Gérard Philippe. The Little Prince was played by Georges Poujouly. I remember it like it was yesterday the tears of emotion which flowed down my cheeks. I was deeply moved, captivated in listening to this story. It was a revelation for me. The Little Prince is one of the works that made me want to write.


How has working on The Little Prince been different to your other projects?

All shows are close to my heart, but this one is totally special. For me, it represents the culmination of a collaborative effort, of explorations, of daring research, which we have been engaged in with Anne for twenty years.


You can also read our interview with Anne Tournié, the show’s director here


WHAT: The show The Petit Prince


WHEN: 26 May to 6 June

HOW: Buy your tickets via the website:

HOW MUCH: Tickets cost $89 -$ 149 plus $8.50 booking fee.


Which childhood book would you like to see turned into a stage production?



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The Little Prince