Thursday, September 16, 2010

Clothing the Music

We were up in Milano in late July to see Il Barbiere di Siviglia and other than the opera had no planned itinerary. It was a weekend to wander Centro, window shop - though we did get break down and buy some fantastic sheets on sale at Frette and I did get that Borsolino - eat, drink, visit the miraculous Duomo and just relax. There was a great deal going on and as always some fascinating exhibitions but only one was on my must-see list: Il costumi veste la musica (The costumes [that] clothe the music) at the Palazzo Morando. It was a peek into the Wardrobe workshops at La Scala.

With the renovation of theatre in 2002-2004 the physical plant of the house was moved out to the Ansaldo Workshops on the outskirts of the city. All the productions are created there and transported to the theatre for final rehearsals and performances. The Benois Pavilion (named after famed designer Nicola Benois) houses the scenery workshop; the Visconti Pavilion (named after director Lucchino Visconti) has rehearsal halls and a stage area identical to the theatre's; and the Caramba Pavillion is the costume atelier.

I had no problem identifying who the first two workshops were named after but Caramba meant nothing to me. A quick search revealed that Luigi Sapelli, who went by the name of Caramba, was a renowned designer of sets and costumes for La Scala, La Fenice, Regio di Torino, Opera di Roma and the Metropolitan Opera. A self-taught artist, he established his own costume design studio and from 1921 until his death in 1936 he was director of decor and costuming at La Scala. So the costume workshop at the new facility was named in his honour.

The shop houses pattern makers, cutters, seamstresses, tailors, milliners, boot and shoe makers and the various other artisans needed to bring a designer's creations to life. In a normal season they will create between 800 and 1000 new costumes and up to 1500 are taken from the warehouse to be repaired and retailored to fit the current company of singers and dancers.

The warehouse currently has an inventory of almost 60,000 costumes for over 280 productions. Some of the costumes date back to 1911 and are kept for their historic value. Others - such as the one worn by Joyce DiDonato as Rosina (right) designed 40 years ago by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle - are used time and time again. The storage wardrobes take up 1400 sq metres (about 15,000 sq feet) of the workshop area.

There is also a full laundry on site as each costume is washed before being sent to the theatre and washed again after the final performance. There is a smaller laundry at the theatre for quick clean ups and freshening.

The exhibition allowed a view into the workshops with examples of costume books for productions, designers' notes and buyers' lists, the materials used and most important a chance to have a close up look at the costumes that are worn on stage.

A left click on the thimble and thread below will take you to a slide show of a few of the photos I took of the exhibition. (And if you wish to stop and look at a photo more closely just use the pause button and simply click through them - many of these costumes are worth a closer look for the sheer artistry involved in creating them.)

A left click on the poster will take you to a slide show of exhibition photographs.

More photos can be found at my friend Opera Chic's - who had an article on the exhibition in August. It was while going through her archives that I remembered I had a few photos myself and should really put them to use.

As an amusing little side note - I saw the poster for the exhibition outside the opera house but no one at the La Scala Bookshop or at their Administration counter could give me directions on how to get to the Palazzo Morando. At least the receptionist had the good grace to apologize and say he hadn't seen the exhibition himself.

The photo of Joyce DiDonato from the La Scala Barbiere is by
Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano, Archivio Fotografico del Teatro alla Scala

16 settembre - Santi Corneilo e Cipriano


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