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Fabrizio Cassol & Alain Platel – Requiem pour L. | Sadler’s Wells

Fabrizio Cassol & Alain Platel — Requiem pour L - Chris van der Burght
Fabrizio Cassol & Alain Platel — Requiem pour L – Chris van der Burght

The Sadler’s programme notes for this musical reworking of Mozart’s Requiem by composer Fabrizio Cassol indicate he has made it clear that this is the most perilous musical undertaking he has ever attempted.

He’s right. Cassol has reduced the magnificence of Mozart’s stirring Baroque requiem mass for soprano, contralto and bass soloists along with a substantial choir to just individual voices omitting the bass. Backed not by an orchestra but various instruments such as guitars and even an accordion. The work is directed by the innovative and often exciting director, Alain Platel and the singers and musicians are fantastic, notably Boule Mpanya and Owen Metsileng. However, the reduction of what is a sublime choral work for many to individual voices removes the engine of tonality from the four movements of the Requiem known as Mozart’s. There is a fatal insufficiency in the variation of tone of this performed work at Sadler’s to sustain engagement for the playing length of one hour and forty minutes. (No interval.)

Mozart died before completing the Requiem which was finished by others. Meaning there is a precedent for an infilling beyond the music Mozart composed. Cassol has however also reworked Mozart’s own music, distilling it to what he imagines to be the essence of Mozart’s writing. He then adds world music sounds to that essence, seeking fuel for that from musical traditions such as Pygmy, India and Mali. The programme says it would be simplistic to think of the additions as merely African. Cassol obviously knows his social field of interests intimately but to those not equally informed in the audience what is not lyrical Mozart mostly does sound like as if it has a familiar South or East African influence. Simplistic as that may seem to those who know better.

At the time of composing this arrangement, Cassol was referencing a “different” kind of funeral ceremony, one that is neither Western nor African. Active performance is mostly contained within the tight spaced and claustrophobic confines of what looks very much like the grey coffined arrangement of the moving Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. There are warm coloured lights installed in a part of the floor between some coffins as if to suggest a fire, near which there is sometimes some static movement rather as if dancing on the spot on a crowded dance floor. Sometimes there is movement reminiscent of a hand jive.

Looming over this set at all times is a mammoth screen showing Black and white film of a close-up view of a woman (L) dying at home in bed. We are told in the programme the director had bid farewell to his father, his dog and had sat at the deathbed of his mentor when preparing this work. Many of us have, or will, attend the deathbeds of dying loved ones. For those of us who have, this footage was distressing. It could be perceived as sensationalist and intrusive anyway in its objective perspective of this dying stranger. At odds with the feeling that surely we are meant to see only those we care about dying in such domestic proximity.

Some audience members left after thirty minutes or so, others drifted out during the performance.

The star rating below is not a reflection on the marvellous and talented performers but rather on the misconceived direction and concept that is this musical work.

2 gold stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Director Alain Platel and composer Fabrizio Cassol collaborate once again in this unique, poignant evening inspired by Mozart’s unfinished burial hymn, and reflecting bereavements in Platel’s life.

With 14 musicians and singers from across the globe, many of whom performed in Coup Fatal in 2015, Cassol reconstructs the Requiem using diverse musical influences from popular African rhythms to jazz and opera, creating a new version while keeping the essence of Mozart alive.

Platel builds a potent visual world of death and ritual, exploring themes of mortality by combining movement, Mozart’s requiem mass and powerful footage of a woman dying which is shown throughout the performance.

Inspired by the diverse mix of cultures and influences of the performers, Platel creates a moving ceremony of mourning alongside an uplifting celebration of life.

A production by les ballets C de la B, Festival de Marseille, Berliner Festspiele.

Fabrizio Cassol & Alain Platel — Requiem pour L.
20 & 21 Mar
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R

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