Bibhu Mohapatra has created costumes for the Washington National Opera’s performance of “Come Home: A Celebration of Return,” which will debut Nov. 6.
The opera will hold four performances at the Kennedy Center with themes highlighting liberty and idealism, and will pay tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was a longtime fan of the opera. Singers will perform selections from many of Ginsberg’s favorite operas, capped off with a special tribute video narrated by NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. The event marks the reopening of the Kennedy Center after being closed during the pandemic.
There are video projections and staged selections from such operas as Rossini’s “William Tell;” Verdi’s “Nabucco;” Wagner’s “Tannhäuser;” Beethoven’s “Fidelio;” Bizet’s “Carmen;” Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment,” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Singers include Pretty Yende, Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee, Alexandria Shiner, David Butt Philip and Christian Van Horn, among others.
Mohapatra has designed 15 costumes for the female and male cast.
In an interview with Mohapatra, he said this wasn’t his first time designing costumes for the opera. Several years ago, he designed costumes for a performance of “Aida” at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The designer said he’s been working on the costumes for the Washington National Opera for the past two and a half to three months.
“They wanted to touch on the spirit of Justice Ginsberg and her relationship with the opera world,” he said. While each of the opera singers perform musical selections as a character, Mohapatra said he didn’t need to design costumes for their specific character. “I call it it opera couture, bringing high fashion and really beautiful crafted clothes and the artistry of opera to really create that bridge,” he said.
The costumes, developed for a cast of varying sizes, were produced in his atelier, as well as the costume shop in the Takoma neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
Among the fabrics he used were hand-loomed Ikat textiles from Odisha, India; silk chiffon; silk faille; lace; cotton; silk jacquards; tulle; light wool gabardines, and Dongria tribal weaves of Odisha. He said the women’s pieces “are really elegant and beautiful and are couture pieces.” Ranjana Khan provided the “beautifully colored feathered earrings,” he pointed out.
Many of the outfits are a nod to his heritage. “To me, being an immigrant and arriving in this country, growing in this country, educating myself, this project is another part of my American dream coming true,” he said. He said his first dream was realized when Michelle Obama wore his dress and coat for her visit to New Delhi, India, to be greeted by Narendra Modi, the prime minister.
Speaking to the creative process in designing for the opera, he said, “I had 100 percent leeway in creativity. I leaned on them and they gave me as much as I wanted, what they’re singing and what is the mood of it.”
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