An old woman, cigarette in mouth, appears on her death bed. She reappears as a woman in middle age, then as a young mother with a baby in her arms, and then, finally, as a newborn herself.

Mozart's Requiem Romeo Castellucci’s Requiem. Photo © Pascal Victor

The cycle of life takes centre stage in Romeo Castellucci’s ritualistic production of the Mozart Requiem, the Italian director viewing the work not as a mass for the dead but as a celebration of life. Earning rave reviews at its premiere last July as part of the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Requiem forms the much-anticipated centrepiece of this year’s Adelaide Festival.

Bringing together close to 100 people, including chorus members, dancers, soloists and musicians, Castellucci’s production is clearly far from a traditional presentation of the Requiem. Taking place on a white box set, a procession of striking stage images – a forest, a car wreck and a crucifixion – alternate with folkloric dances brimming with vitality and joy. All the while, projected onto the set are the names of species, buildings and religions seen to be under threat.

“Castellucci’s vision was there from the very beginning,” says Siobhan Stagg, who was the...