— At the Festival

Published on July 15 2019


© Pascal Victor / artcompress


At Aix, Mozart’s Requiem resonates for all the planet. Opening the Festival, Castellucci and Raphaël Pichon offer a splendid meditation on the beauty of the world and its disintegration.
After some performances, you just feel happy. So it was with the opening night of the 2019 Festival d’Aix. […] What the conductor Raphaël Pichon and the theater director Romeo Castellucci proposed in their production of Mozart’s
Requiem is, simply, a great moment of poetry. [...]
During the interval, words projected on the back wall took on new meaning: from the dinosaurs, time moved forward to us; and where another might have launched into an uninspired condemnation of global warming, Castellucci confronted us with much more fundament questions about the disembodiment of the world, and our vanishing relationship with our bodies, with our thoughts and with beauty itself. It was beauty that won out the night before last, in the still-damp courtyard of the Théâtre de l'Archevêché.


Romeo Castellucci, a "Requiem" to life and to death.
Conducted by Raphaël Pichon, Mozart’s masterpiece made for a perfect opening night at the Festival d’Aix.
Mystical currents were at work, inciting the creators to attempt something less equivocal. The warm breeze of naïveté sometimes comforts the greatest among us. That is how it was for Castellucci, for his traditional color symbolism—the white of birth, the black of grief, the blood red of life—and for the idealized image of folk dancing that evoked the pagan rite of some Balkan people, but which demanded such grandiose staging from the Pygmalion chorus that it weakened the visionary aura. [...]



The mass of the dead becomes an ode to life.
In Aix, Romeo Castellucci and Raphaël Pichon offer an experiment in finiteness as they take on Mozart’s unfinished work.
Aided, or perhaps even brought into the world, by the conductor Raphaël Pichon, who is fascinated by the director’s vision and has audaciously constructed a musical broidery (blending youthful works and plainsong into the Requiem)—a broidery, by the way, that was performed marvelously on period instruments despite the humidity—, Castellucci attempted to recreate—at the Théâtre de l’Archevêché, in front of a thousand people, many of whom were senior citizens—a personal moment of realization from childhood. It is the realization that nothing survives forever, that time is just a vertiginous rift, an eternal aspiration for the end of our lives, of the earth, of the sun, of the universe.… And even though the creative machine sometimes jammed, it also produced superb images: one of the young (and talented) child singer Chadi Lazreq, who plays football with a skull; and another of a baby sitting on the ruined stage, watching us in silence. He is only a few months old, we used to be him, and he will be us; we managed to feel this sinister, endless loop, while still disappearing inside it.


The coup de théâtre was the cataclysm that occurred in the "Communion" of the requiem liturgy, the souls becoming one with God shouting their jubilation, tearing down the white walls of the world. The  floor of the stage slowly rose, becoming vertical, the debris of the wall and black dirt of the world randomly sliding down to reveal, finally, a blank, white wall. Death. Silence.
The stage was the music, and the music was the stage. Maestro Pichon’s Pygmalion orchestra of period instruments was the voice and the world of man, the solo winds of purest sound, of psychological innocence, the solfeggio violin duet with the boy soprano giving corpus to nature. The eloquence of the requiem liturgies ceaselessly emerged from the pit in crystal clear phrasing that created profound, truly human embodiment for this mass of death.


The director Romeo Castellucci and the conductor Raphaël Pichon’s production of Mozart’s Requiem, at the Aix-en-Provence opera festival, is staggering. […] The stage rises, life slips away and changes planes, vertical replaces horizontal, and revolution puts everything back in order. Mozart is born again and again. The soprano Siobhan Stagg, the alto Sara Mingardo, the tenor Martin Mitterrutzner, the bass Luca Titttoto, and the extraordinary Pygmalion chorus and orchestra are lifted to the heavens. A child’s voice can be heard, singing. On stage, a baby is set down by the “Eves.” It cries. A birth. A revelation? It is up to us to give it a name.


With Mozart’s Requiem, Romeo Castellucci has become a theatrical creative genius. In his own way, he creates theater that is stubborn, anchored in reality, with a view onto humankind, people’s fears and their hopes.
His conceit tonight was to direct dramatic theater that is sometimes enigmatic, but always impressive.
When the black curtains shake in the darkness, the sorrow caused by death—by the physical disappearance of a human—spreads out in all its grandeur. Finiteness imposes itself as a daily repressed experience.
At last, the stage slowly rises, giving way to the Tabula Rasa, and allowing all of the debris left behind by the chorus to slide away. Suddenly, a marvelous seven-year-old boy, Chadi Lazreq, stands back up behind the conductor for a Gregorian “In Paradisum” that delights the audience. Only the (real) baby, who enthralls us as he sits in the middle of a deserted stage, is more moving. The vision is astounding!


Opening the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Romeo Castellucci and Raphaël Pichon have brilliantly reinvented Mozart’s Requiem. Convinced of its theatrical impact, they have turned it into a living memory of the world’s greatest dead, placing dance and childhood in the middle of the performance as signs of regeneration.
Very adept at dichotomies, the director plays on opposition and ambivalence. Funereal blackness, which shrouds the grieving stage as an elderly woman awaits death while she smokes her last cigarette in front of a television screen before disappearing under the sheets of her bed, quickly gives way to an immaculately bright space. This deserted heath is perfectly suited for the joyful images and projections of the Italian artist. The newly-appeared marmoreal whiteness evokes an eternal Parnassus, soon to be covered with regenerative earth and verdant trees. Even endangered, this matrix of nature will be a place of celebration and happiness.
That is how Castellucci transforms the
Requiem into a ritual that is free of pomposity and exaggerated tearfulness, but is instead impregnated with unexpected kindness, and has a strong and vital momentum that translates into utterly astonishing cheer, enthusiasm and graceful naïveté.