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ROME — “Carmen” is one of the world’s best-known operas, and as such, there seems to be no end to the adaptations of the drama by Georges Bizet, based on Prosper Mérimée’s story.
After being revisited by countless lyrical and movie productions, even adapted into a hip-hop opera movie sung by Beyoncé, the latest “Carmen,” staged by Rome’s Opera Theater, bowed last week here, with costumes designed by Alberta Ferretti. The premiere also marked the reopening, after 10 years, of the city’s archeological site Terme di Caracalla, an ancient Roman spa turned into an open-air theater.
“I think it’s a dream for any designer to dress Carmen, a strong, sensual woman,” said Ferretti, just hours before the opening curtain. “I wanted to portray Carmen as contemporary, but timeless.”
When contacted two months ago by director Francesco Esposito and scene-designer Italo Grassi, who both fell for a red Alberta Ferretti dress they saw in a window, the designer said she immediately jumped at the idea.
“I went for it headlong, but little did I know that I was going to have to turn out 1,500 pieces in such a short time,” she recalled. The challenge was doubled by the fact that Ferretti, whose signature and Philosophy collections are women’s only, designed costumes for the men in the cast as well.
“Who knows, you might see me trying my hand at a men’s collection,” she quipped.
For “Carmen” — which was Ferretti’s first major effort for a theater production, besides a few ballet costumes for Paris-based Carolyn Carlson — the designer played with colors that, she said, help give harmony and mark the lead character’s passionate temperament.
“Carmen’s personality also emerges through the variations of color,” she said. While the chorus and the other characters in the first act are dressed in bright reds and oranges, Carmen’s first outfit is white. Slowly, through the four acts, Carmen’s costumes vary from black and white to burgundy and the final red, while the other characters fade into creams, whites and ecrus.
To enhance the lightness of the clothes, the designer used her favorite material, chiffon, and linen.
The minimalist set design was balanced by a flurry of off-the-shoulder peasant blouses and ruffled low-waist skirts. Although Ferretti went back to the historical archive of the Opera Theater — five floors of costumes — the designer said more than half of the costumes were completely redone. “I turned many pieces inside out, updating them,” she said, noting her goal was to let the clothes enhance the body without constrictions.
“I felt feminine, beautiful and sexy,” said Sonia Ganassi, who played the title role, after the performance. “My favorite outfit was the black chiffon dress, [over a white stretch tulle blouse with lace sleeves and white half-slip] because I felt completely free in it.”
Ferretti said she often used layers to give the actors a chance to quickly change behind the scenes. “There are technical priorities I would never have imagined,” she said. Ferretti noted that, apart from the different body types, she had to focus on sending out harmonious groups of costumes, since there were moments when more than 145 people were on stage together. “I’m used to models alternating on the runway,” she said.
The designer saw the costumes all together on the stage for the first time on the opening night.
Costumes were created by the Theater’s seamstresses and partly by Aeffe, the Italian manufacturing company owned by Ferretti and her brother, Massimo. Aeffe produces the Ferretti lines, Moschino, Narciso Rodriguez Pollini and Jean Paul Gaultier.
“I think a designer sometimes needs to let her imagination run loose and have free reign,” said Massimo Ferretti at a post-theater dinner held by his sister on a terrace overlooking Rome’s skyline. “Although it’s a lot more work, this sort of escapism is a plus.”
Asked whether there will be some “Carmen” in the next runway show to be held in Milan in the fall, Ferretti was tight-lipped. But after the party, the designer drove to San Giovanni in Marignano, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, to work on her new collections.
Separately, the company is slated to open a store Moscow’s Petrovsky Passage today. The location is franchised with Bosco di Ciliegi and will carry the Alberta Ferretti and Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti collections and accessories in a 3,000-square-foot space designed by architect David Ling.