And then the tears died out too

At La Monnaie, Italian director Romeo Castellucci transforms Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ into a modest funeral mass for humanity. But maybe there is still hope.

With an almost crushed voice, choked with nervousness, ten-year-old Chadi Lazreq sang ‘In Paradisum’ until the very end of the evening. This is a piece of Gregorian chant that is sung at traditional funeral services when the coffin is carried from the church. It does not really belong in Mozart’s ‘Requiem’, but it was a gripping climax on an emotionally charged evening. When Lazreq had finished singing, he put his index finger over his mouth. Did he ask for silence as a sign of grief? Or did he say the show was over? There was silence in the hall. A lump in his throat was swallowed here and there.

The essence

  • ‘Requiem’ is a fair by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
  • He started the composition in 1791. He died before it was finished.
  • The Italian director Romeo Castellucci made a theatrical performance of the Mass of the Dead for De Munt.
  • He focuses on the death and rebirth of humanity.

Everyone must decide for themselves what the finger meant. Romeo Castellucci is the master of the double layers and to create confusion in his audience. You’re never sure what he means. It’s not important either. It’s primarily about what one gets out of his performance. With ‘Requiem’ at the premiere on Friday night in De Munt, there was a deep feeling of absolute beauty in sound and image, subdued by the belief that people, after all, are not so good at taking care of themselves and the planet. But all is not lost.

Mozart never finished his ‘Requiem’. He died in 1791, when he had well and thoroughly started the composition. His widow Constanze Weber asked Franz Xaver Süssmayr, a friend of the family, to complete the work. Question about being able to send the final invoice to the customer, an Austrian count. It has not yet been determined exactly how much Mozart is at his funeral. What sketches did Süssmayr have exactly? And could he have talked to Mozart before he died?

The uncertainty gripped Castellucci with joy at intervening in the scoring. He supplemented ‘Requiem’ with pieces of Mozart’s other religious music and Gregorian chants at the beginning and end. Castellucci’s intervention leads musically to a different Requiem than one is used to. But the real tour de force lies in the way he transforms a static funeral mass into a dazzling theatrical performance.

rest home

The beginning is still quite traditional. A bed and a television on stage, an old woman getting ready for the night. She probably lives in a nursing home. A hospital is also possible. Moments later, she is dead and is being carried away.

The real tour de force lies in the way Romeo Castellucci transforms a static funeral mass into a dazzling theatrical performance.

The old woman no longer plays a significant role in the performance. The following is a mass of death for humanity. Castellucci shows on a stage big screen in a simple English phrase what life and culture have become extinct and / or disappeared in recent centuries. Animals of course, starting with the dinosaurs. Follow plants. Cities, languages, religions, buildings, works of art. Emotions follow eventually. ‘The Extermination of Tears’ can be read. The very last sentence is the extinction of love.

It seems very gloomy and depressing, but you do not get that feeling. Castellucci shows on stage what man is capable of in his best moments: creating art.

Castellucci conjures up beautiful tableaux under ‘Requiem’.
© Bernd Uhlig

It is not only the music of Mozart (and Süssmayr) that makes you forget all doom and gloom. Castellucci conjures up one beautiful tableau after another. Sometimes the picture is small-scale with a child’s innocence at the forefront. Then he retires with De Munt’s choir, which takes care of most of the vocals. Soloists play a minor role in ‘Requiem’. Decorated in very stylish and colorful costumes, the choir members and real dancers embark on simple choreographies that most resemble folk dances. It is incredible how song and dance form an intimate ensemble.

In the program booklet, Castellucci primarily calls ‘Requiem’ an ode to life. You get that feeling gradually during the performance. The very last sentence on the screen is the date of the performance. In our case, it was April 29, 2022. It is a Castelluccian message that you can take in all directions.

Will that mean life is actually over? That there is nothing left to draw us on? Or does it just mean the opposite? For almost two hours, the depressing messages rolled across the screen, but after all, people are still not extinct and life goes on after all. We will not reveal the final image of the performance, behind the singing boy with his finger. But it seems that the Italian director mainly believes in human power and rebirth.

Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plays in De Munt until 14 May.

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