Christianne Myers made her Florentine Opera debut as Costume Designer for The Magic Flute (2009). She is a faculty member at the University of Michigan and has designed costumes for many works of opera and theater. Below, she shares her insight into the process of creating the costumes that you will see onstage.
This is the first production of Rigoletto that I have designed. When stage director Bill Florescu and I first spoke about the general production design elements for the opera, we were in easy agreement that we would not place the opera in the 16th century. Instead, we wanted the look to feel period-appropriate, yet not specific to any one moment in history, so we discussed several timeless articles of clothing. Specifically, the long coat for the Duke: it shows up as a banyan in the 17th century, as a long duster coat in the American Wild West and in the 20th century, makes a very recognizable silhouette in The Matrix movies. We also decided this was a world where women are in long skirts but in a very modern way. (Maxi dresses are very popular right now!) I was, and continue to be, attached to the idea of the Men’s Chorus really having a pack mentality- they are a bunch guys who are a cross between drunken frat boys and the group from Clockwork Orange who drink too much, mock, taunt, torture and harass women and those they believe to be less than themselves. They are also rich courtiers and their world is political and wealthy. When deciding on a basic suit for the men, I didn’t want to define a specific era by using a certain lapel or tie shape. This led me to finding mandarin collared suits which give a nod to the 16th century but, like the Duke’s coat, also show up in later time periods as well. At a glance they are definitely modern suits but we are adding trim, buttons and painted detail which give a flavor of ” long ago.”
Sometimes the best laid plans need to be altered. While meeting with wig designer Dawn Rivard last week, I had a total “oops” moment as we discussed Rigoletto’s wardrobe. My original idea for Rigoletto was that we would see an onstage transformation from colorful court attire into his neutral home look by turning his outer piece inside-out. The story demands that he has a shoulder hump and therefore his costume is cut asymmetrically to accommodate the padding. 6 weeks into the process and I realized his vest won’t work inside out because it lacks symmetry! Fortunately, Bill could easily handle the adjustment since staging hasn’t started and the draper hadn’t cut the piece out yet.
For Gilda, I knew once the scarf in the garden was created, the rest of the costume would fall into place. The costume needs to help tell her story about what happens off stage between Acts II & III. With a waist scarf, it gives her something that starts to become “undone,” not just left behind when she’s abducted. Her outer garment could read both as a dress and as bedclothes and gives her a layer to be removed for Act III.
H ere are a few more costume renderings to give you a brief peek at what you’ll see onstage: