LOS ANGELES — Who says opera has to be an ornate affair? Robert Wilson’s production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” which premieres this month at the Los Angeles Opera, is just the opposite, but no less of a costume drama.
“Its always good to challenge an audience,” says artistic supervisor Robby Duiveman, in town from Amsterdam, where he runs the Netherlands Opera costume department, to oversee the creation of the 32 costumes. The production, which runs through March 14, is a study in silhouette and light, and the angular monochromatic costumes, designed by Frida Parmeggiani, resemble pieces of origami rather than the typical soft and colorful kimonos.
“The costumes are more like sculptures,” says Duiveman, noting that Parmeggiani doesn’t even work with sketches, but prefers to create the costumes in 3-D. To hold their rigid shapes (there’s nary a rounded corner in the entire production, save character Kate Pinkerton’s Western-style petticoats) Duiveman used stiff, exotic fabrics like pineapple and banana leaf fiber and hona silk as well as sheer organza for layering and capturing light. Each costume is dyed its own subtle shade ranging from ivory to caramel. The insides of the seemingly columnar dresses are boned with flattening corsets to eliminate any signs of a bosom and make the fabrics stand out from the lines of the body.
“The effect is as if these dresses are floating onstage. All you see is the line and shape of the gowns,” he says, noting that the performers wear only ballet slippers or simple platform slippers to skim across the stage, feet unseen. “Inside, it’s not so easy to move, but great costumes cannot always be comfortable.”