Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Magic Flute--Costume Design

Shadow puppets designed by Carl Day
The Magic Flute, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was produced at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Winter Semester, 2008 on the Snow Drama Theatre Stage.

Tamino, a prince from a distant land is battling a serpent.  Overcome with fatigue he faints and as he is about to be killed, the three ladies who are servants to the Queen of the Night slay the serpent and rescue him.  When he comes to, they show him a picture of Pamina with whom he falls madly in love.  The Queen of the Night appears and pleads with Tamino to rescue her daughter from the evil Sarastro.  He agrees, and with his new found trusty sidekick Papageno, the birdman, he sets out to find her and free her from bondage.

On his journey, however it is revealed that the Queen of the Night is the evil one and Sarastro is the benevolent one.  In order to become a modern man, and win the hand of Pamina, Tamino must pass through a number of trials.  Papageno also finds his soulmate, the beautiful birdgirl Papagena.  Finally, when Tamino and Pamina have passed through the trials of fire and water, the Queen of the Night and her evil henchman Monostatos are vanquished and the two are married.

This production was co-directed by Jon Linford of the BYU-Idaho Music Department and John Bidwell of the BYU-Idaho Theatre Department.  Jon suggested the concept that when European strength and vitality met Eastern sophistication and philosophy, the Renaissance was born.

We discussed what this meant at some length and determined that our hero, Tamino would be a northern barbarian who would slowly transform throughout the opera until he became a "modern" man.

We had a very talented young costume design student named Julie Brown that was trying to beef up a portfolio so she could apply to graduate school.  I agreed to take her on as an assistant designer for this show.  Julie was very good and so I decided she should be more of an associate designer and I gave her Pamina and the three spirits, as well as many of the chorus members to design.  She did a wonderful job on those costumes.  As part of the agreement, though since I was the designer of record, I retained right of approval on her costumes.  I do not feel that I abused that authority, however.

One challenge we had was the fact that many of the roles were double cast.  Tamino and Pamina, the Queen of the Night, and Papagena were all double cast.  Of all the characters, only the actresses who played Pamina were the same size.  For example, one of the queens of the night was at least six inches taller than the other.  So we had to build double costumes in some cases and find creative solutions in others.

As I was pondering the role of Tamino, I recalled an album cover of a 1970's southern rock band named Molly Hatchet.  It had a barbarian carrying a battleaxe and wearing a winged helm  This was my initial inspiration for his character.  I also really liked the fact that I could inject a little Rock and Roll into an opera.  Afterall, Mozart, in my opinion, was a rockstar in his day. 

I viewed Tamino as a Viking and dressed him in a blue tunic with an animal skin cape, breeches with cross gartered boots and the feathered helm.  I also had a student and good friend, Robert McKenzie build a Scottish targe for him.  In addition to that I bought him a bearded axe.

Tamino in battle dress with axe and targe
Tamino vanquished, with helm and targe
The transformation of Tamino began in the first scene when the three ladies remove his helm, take his axe and targe. 

The transformation begins
As Tamino grew more and more civilized, he lost more and more of the northern barbarian look and became more refined.  After the weapons and armor were taken, the next step of the transformation was the animal skin cloak.

Tamino continued to change, sporting neatly coifed, dark hair in an 18th century style, no mustache, and wearing penitent's robes

Tamino in penitent's robes
Finally, when he has passed all Sorastro's tests, Tamino is transformed into a modern Renaissance man in full 18th century regalia.  I found a piece of upholstery fabric at Home Fabrics in Idaho Falls, Idaho that was a blue chenille with a great gold thread design.  I knew it had to be Tamino's suit.  We also covered his tri-corn hat with it.

Tamino's suit
(promo shot)

Pamina, Sarastro and Tamino as the newly enlightened
Sarastro was played by the great Norman Bailey, who celebrated his 75th birthday by coming out of retirement to play the role.  Sarastro's tunic and robes were also made of upholstery fabric and his hat was actually a fur covered band hat that we refurbished and wrapped with linen.

The Queen of the Night was an interesting challenge to design.  The first time we see her we need to identify with her because we believe she is an injured mother who only wants the return of her daughter.  The second time we meet her we realize that she is the embodiment of pure evil.  In addition to this she must be at all times spectacular.

I decided she should be in full 18th century costume with the underdress, paniers and an overdress.  I also cheated just a little and gave her an Elizabethan standing collar in black boned lace.  I designed an enormous hooded cape for her out of sheer purple and blue organza which she kept on for the entirety of her first entrance.  The cape hid the sinister, 18th century horned goddes wig that we styled. 

I found a dark purple tafetta with a swag design which we turned upside down and cut out the bottom row of swags which gave it a batwing design.  This I backed with a pleated black satin ruffle about nine inches long.  The overdress was constructed out of a black chenille with gold thread and trimmed in purple.  Finally, the hood was large and the cape was 20 feet long by 15 feet wide.  The edges were cut with a batwing profile and made sturdy by sewing tie-line in the hem.  We also had wooden rods for her hands to hold the cape out at different moments of the aria.

I found some pointy witch shoes online and finished the costume by adding about a hundred dollars of colorless acrylic gems to all parts of the costume, including her earrings, shoes and wig. 

Her first entrance was stunning.  She had her back to the audience and was in total darkness.  The front of the stage was lit so we barely saw her silhouette against the black star drop.  The cape was spread out over the stairs and when the lights bled up over the stage it was breathtaking.  She turned and delivered her first aria without removing the hood or the cape.  On her second aria she was without the hood and we saw the horned wig for the first time and through costume realized she was evil

Unfortunately, someone released the spotlight crew on picture call night so we don't have images with the correct lighting in many cases.  That's a shame as it was a beautiful lighting design.

The Queen of the Night
More the Queen of the Night
Can't get enought of the Queen of the Night
The horned goddess wig
(promo shot)
I decided to use alot of feathers for the bird people, Papageno and Papagena.  I also decided to color coordinate them as they would be in nature.  Yellow and orange seemed appropriate to me, possibly because canaries are harmless and their only purpose in life is to sing and be delightful.  I viewed Papageno and Papagena in that way.

I asked Lindsay Lopez to design their makeup and requested that she incorporate ostrich plumes into their eyebrows.  I also asked Celeste Harper to style the wigs.  She styled an 18th century wig for Papageno which abracted a coxcomb on top and an 18th century ladies wig for Papagena with ostrich plumes woven throughout.

Papageno was dressed in traditional 18th century garb except that he tended to sprout yellow and orange feathers from the seams in his jacket.  He also had a yellow and orange collar made of a feather boa.  Papageno also sported a shaved ostrich plume tail.

Papagena comes to Papageno disguised as an old hag.  He has to prove himself to her before she is revealed as the beautiful bird girl.  I told Patty Randall, the costume shop director that I wanted Papagena to be able to begin as the old hag, turn around one time and be revealed as the beautiful bird girl, complete with an ostrich plume tail.  But I didn't want anyone to assist her and I didn't want any fabric from the old hag left on stage.  In other words I wanted magic.

If we had allowed an assitant or allowed fabric to be left on stage it would have been easy.  All we would have had to do is remove a cloak and voila she would be revealed.  I didn't want anything that easy.  I wanted the hag costume to melt away and the bird girl to appear.  I wanted jaws to drop.

Patty is a very gifted pattern maker and came up with a solution to this impossible problem almost without any hesitation.  It involved Papagena getting dressed in her bird girl costume, then lifting everything up and stepping into the hag costume but tied at the waist and pulled up to conceal the pretty costume.  Then we added witch gloves which were long opera gloves dyed grey with witch fingertips glued to the fingers.

Papagena would say her last lines as the hag while carefully pulling her fingers out of the gloves, then she would turn around and part the hag robe with her hands and gravity did the rest.  The transformation was spectacular.  The old crone literally melted away and Papagena appeared and the audience had a collective jaw drop every night.  And there was no fabric left behind.  Magic.

Papageno and the Hag
Papageno and Papagena
Papageno and Papagena
For Monostatos, I pulled his costume primarily from stock.  A piece from one show, another piece from a different one and so on.  Where I really had fun with his costume, though was in the accessories.  I made him a heavy beaded necklace with imitation human vertabrae and finger bones tied into it.  I braided bones into his hair and bought a massive shamshir (curved sword).  I also gave him a "ZZ Top" style beard as another homage to Rock and Roll.

The Two Armed Men were fun costumes to create.  I went back to my high school days and the first costume I ever designed to create them.  I was cast as the 4th Knight in Once Upon a Mattress and complained to my teacher that I needed armor if I was going to be a knight.  He said I'd have to build it myself and suggesed I make it out of milk jugs.  Long story short, I did and it turned out great, both in high school and in The Magic Flute.  I credit that high school experience as the one that really got me on the path to being a designer

I rented helmets for the two armed men and decorated them with coque feathers.  We had some old vacuum formed scale armor breastplates that I used, and then I outfitted them with heavy knit thermal underwear that was dyed grey, then I cut out armor pieces out of milk jugs and plastic soda bottles.  We painted them and stitched them to the thermal underwear.

The gauntlets, though were the best part.  I bought grey cotton knit gloves and cut out finger armor from the handles on the milk jugs and then stitched the handles to the fingers on the gloves.  I've used that on Halloween costumes for my boys as well.  It's a really great way to get cool armor cheap.

I finished the costumes off with high boots and breeches from costume stock.  The final touch and my last homage to Rock Music were the rockstar wigs I put on these two men.

Two armed men in "milk jug armor"
Julie's designs for this show were very good.  She clothed Pamina in a blue-green tafetta gown with a sheer organza veil.  Both the gown and the veil were embroidered.  She looked stunning.

Pamina's gown
Jon Linford, the co-director said he wanted the Three Spirits to look like Mozart as a child.  The Three Spirits are pants roles for women, by the way.  Julie designed these wonderful skirted vests and frocks for them, each in a different color.  I felt they were missing something because they were supposed to be spirits and yet they were really grounded in reality.  I happened upon a 1908 lithograph for the original Le Chevalier D'Eon which showed in the bottom left corner, a child wearing 18th century garb but with insect wings.  I knew we had several sets of Victoria's Secret style angel wings and knew it was the right thing to add.  I had to convince Julie of this but I think she was okay with it by the end.  The wings didn't obscure any of the costumes she had designed, they just gave the Three Spirits just enough whimsy to suggest they were from a different world.

To my knowledge that is the only alteration I made to any of Julie's designs.

The Three Spirits
We have done several biblical shows over the years and we have a great deal of biblical costumes in stock.  We used these to outfit the priestly chorus.

The Priestly Chorus
I had never been a fan of opera before this one.  Jon Linford has an enthusiasm for the medium that is infectious, though.  This opera was a true joy to work on.  Satisfying in every way.  The collaboration of the whole design team worked very well.  Since this experience, I've given opera another chance and have enjoyed the other three I've worked on since. 

Production Details
  • Directed by Jon Linford and John Bidwell
  • Costume Design by Gary Benson
  • Associate Costume Designer:  Julie Brown Hogge
  • Scene Design by Richard Clifford
  • Lighting Design by Brent Prichett
  • Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall
  • Technical Director:  Ray Versluys

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