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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Carmen the cabaret offers a different perspective on opera’s femme fatale

Reading Time: 4 minutes

After her Adelaide Fringe debut with Disenchanted: A cabaret of twisted fairy tales last year, Eliane Morel has returned to The Garage International with a new show Carmen the Cabaret. Just as Disenchanted turned the stories we know on their heads by giving the bad, evil, maligned characters a chance to speak for themselves, Carmen the Cabaret looks at Georges Bizet’s Carmen and lets Carmen tell her own story. Carmen gets to speak her own truth.

Carmen the cabaret

Eliane opens by asking the audience who among them are opera lovers, who are Carmen the opera lovers, and who have no idea about Carmen the opera. On the night we attended, the majority of the crowd fell into the first two categories and were thus familiar with the story of Carmen. Eliane then shows the rest of the audience that even though they thought they had no idea about Carmen the opera, quite a few of the songs will be familiar. From the prelude to Carmen, which has been in numerous advertisements, to the bullfighter song Toreador, which has been adapted by the Geelong football club or adopted by a roller-door company.


Using Tarot cards from 1760s Marseille, which Eliane had reproduced just for the show (such is the level of detail and care she has shown) Eliane summons Carmen to Pilgrim Uniting Church (where venue The Garage International is set up for Adelaide Fringe) to tell her story. The vaulted ceilings of the church lend themselves perfectly to a calling to the spirits and also provide perfect acoustics for Eliane’s lofty voice when she performs Carmen’s songs. And what a voice that is! Eliane’s opera experience and vocal talent are showcased exceptionally well, particularly when she is performing just with a piano and without the backing of an orchestra that an opera would usually have.

Image: Facebook page of Eliane Morel

Carmen the cabaret is performed with just Eliane Morel on stage and Daryl Wallis on keys. Eliane steps into the role of Carmen and allows her to explain in her own terms just what happened. Her ability to go from simple speech straight into opera singing was quite incredible and impressed us. Eliane regularly works with Opera Bites and based on this performance, we would recommend you see their shows if she’s in them (if you’re in Sydney where they perform). Eliane engaged with the audience choosing one front row audience member as her Don Juan but never made the engagement uncomfortable and the night’s chosen Don Juan seemed quite at ease with being called upon (only from his seat) to respond occasionally.


Eliane’s passion for Carmen is evident from the moment the show begins to the time it ends. So too, is her desire to show that Carmen isn’t just a floozy, or a hussy that leads men on and that quite frankly that attitude is so 1875 (when Carmen was written). To achieve this, not only does she allow Carmen to tell her own story but chimes in over speakers to offer her own little nudges and occasional commentary. There are jabs at the tobacco industry, at Bizet himself for including a stereotypical gypsy song rather than one that was actually accurate, and at society from both then and now about the way in which we view, and treat, women.


Carmen the Cabaret is a very enjoyable way to discover Carmen the opera as well as to view it from a different perspective than the one usually offered.


Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Fringe.


The Adelaide Fringe season of Carmen the cabaret has now concluded.

Image: Facebook page of Eliane Morel

Adelaide Fringe content 

Adelaide Fringe 2023: 23 shows with French and francophone links to see

Interview with Eliane Morel about Carmen the cabaret here

A Night at the Musicals 3: Summer Lovin’ Tour with Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo is a must-see this Adelaide Fringe

The Party, the new show from Strut & Fret, is no Blanc de Blanc

Louise McCabe will present A Night to Baguette at Adelaide Fringe next month

Les Commandos Percu Silence! is a must-see show this Adelaide Fringe – last chance tonight

Bourgeois & Maurice: an extra-terrestrial sibling duo comes to Adelaide Fringe 2023

Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) based on the poetry of Baudelaire is a new dance show coming to Adelaide Fringe

Stefanie Rummel is bringing Chansons: Piaf, Brel & Me – A musical Cabaret about France to Adelaide Fringe 2023 from Germany

Les Commandos Percus bring their show Silence! to Adelaide Fringe 2023



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