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WASHINGTON — The Wash–ington Opera is literally shedding some light onto Verdi’s “Aida,” which opens here Saturday. Not only will the production mark the company’s yearlong move to DAR Constitution Hall, while the Kennedy Center renovates the opera house, but also the worldwide launch of an Italian fashion innovation.
In four scenes of the opera, performers will wear costumes made from Luminex, a fiber-optic thread based on telephone technology that creates luminous, light-generating, battery-operated fabrics capable of changing colors to reflect the wearer’s emotional state.
So when singer Marianne Cornetti in the role of Amneris vents her anger against Radames for choosing Aida and death over her love, it won’t just be her mezzo soprano voice that sparkles with rage. “She’ll be wearing a gown that shimmers with red light, not reflected in the stage lights, but running through the fiber of the dress itself,’’ says director Paolo Miccichè, a pioneer in the use of innovative technology for the opera stage. He was recruited for the production, which runs until March 11, by the Washington Opera’s artistic director, Placido Domingo. “That is part of the new art with which we are experimenting. It is wonderful for ‘Aida’ because of the cult of light, which was part of the Egyptian culture.’’
Miccichè, along with other members of the opera company, turned up at a dimly lit reception at the Italian Embassy last week to mark the launch of Luminex, complete with wine, hors d’oeuvres, socialites and models wearing wedding gowns designed by Mauro Adami from Domo Adami in Milan.
“It all started with this little company in Tuscany that managed to bend optical fibers using the same techniques used in telephones. And then another company managed to weave the threads into fiber,” said a barely visible Italian Ambassador Ferdinand Salleo. The party was held in near darkness to show the gowns off to the best advantage.
Costume designer Alberto Spiazzi conceded working with Luminex requires special consideration. “The fabric must be cut in a way that does not break the fibers carrying light,’’ he explained. “It is almost prohibited to make curves. Everything must begin with a straight line. The battery must always be located with the longer part of the fabric. And if you don’t want the seams to glow, you have to cover them with a band of another fabric. Fortunately, Verdi’s ‘Aida’ is quite suitable because of the straight tunic cut of Egyptian styles.’’
New York-based designer Zuzana Kurtz, the U.S. representative for Luminex, said the product should be ready for sale in the U.S. in September, adding she is already talking to major retailers about showcasing the fabric in their windows.
“Optical fibers as fine as nylon thread can be woven into silk, polyester, cashmere, nylon,’’ said Kurtz, who is offering to help designers learn how to work with the product, which comes in 256 colors. “The threads connect to a small plastic bulb, which can change colors to allow the clothes to suit a person’s mood.’’
The fabric is lightweight and comes in bolts up to 59 inches wide. It runs off of a standard cellular phone battery, which is about the size of a matchbook, and operates for six to nine hours, depending on the size of the product. When used for home furnishings, the fabric can be plugged into an outlet.
Kurtz got plenty of notice from Washington socialites interested in placing orders. “I want the purse,’’ said Mary Louise “Pi’’ Friendly, pointing to the bags lined with glowing Luminex fabric. “That way, I’ll always be able to see what’s inside.’’