Follow Opera North’s production of Così fan tutte from rehearsals and first fittings to singer’s insights and first night nerves.

Cosi fan tutte

During week two, Stephen Rodwell, Head of Costume, gives an insight into the first fittings of the new season.

Così fan tutte opens the Opera North autumn season and so it is the first show to fit. In the last two days we have fitted the entire cast, which is made up of six key characters. Whilst this is a revival and the opera has been performed some years ago, we are making the costumes new for all the singers as there is such disparity in size between the old cast and the new one.

Attention to detail on these costumes is paramount. It’s a small piece and so the audience’s total focus is on those six people; their hair, what shoes they have on, the colour and design of an outfit….it’s all also tied into reflect the psychology of the drama, which is interesting. A key theme is disguise and so as the characters begin quite straight-laced and formal, their costumes are rigid (18th century boned bodices for the girls), then as the story evolves, so do their personalities and clothes. They end more relaxed, more colourful and essentially different people…which ties into the story.

To the technicalities – I have spent two hours with each singer in our costume department. They arrive during ‘music week’ so as not to impact on the production rehearsals and we spend some time talking about the character they will portray and the costumes they will wear. Their measurements have previously been taken and so the costume is ready, but we go through actually fitting it to their body. Finer points like the lacing on the bodices for the girls is left quite flexible, as they won’t know until the stage rehearsals how much movement they will need and so this can be adapted to ensure they can move…and breathe properly.

The fitting is a key stage in the preparation of the singer – we talk about the impact of their costume, how that will make their character appear and feel and it helps the singer to visualise their role and persona for the first time ahead of full rehearsals. I then go through the same discussion process with the director when he arrives in rehearsals to ensure that he is happy with what we have produced. It’s an ongoing process…right through to the first night and beyond.

Così is quite a full on piece costume-wise, the two lead male and female singers have two costumes each, the manipulative Despina has three. The designer specified the shade of grey silk he wanted for the lead female roles, in order to be enhanced by the stage setting and lighting and for three costumes alone we have used over 200ft of material, which sounds immense – the dresses are beautiful.

In contrast to this, costumes for other operas in the autumn repertoire are less elaborate and less rooted in a specific period – Werther for example uses a mixture of vintage garments with carefully constructed costumes, whilst The Adventures of Mr Brouček works with high street clothing which we can adapt to give a contemporary yet retro feel. It does mean hours of pavement pounding though to find exactly what we are looking for….