NEW YORK — During the first intermission of Handel’s “Messiah,” which premiered here last Friday for a four-performance run, British designer Hussein Chalayan, who did the costumes, was joking with his friends that he should save the patterns for his next collection.
They all chuckled. But maybe he should. Chalayan’s designs for the stage — rich with innovation — were the savior of this avant-garde, often coldly oblique interpretation of the holiday classic, which was written in 1741.
Most of the action in this baroque opera, staged by Millennial Arts Productions, takes place in Bethlehem Royal Hospital or Bedlam, styled to resemble a high tech surgical suite in white enamel. Against this setting, the female inmates wore intricately cut red cotton shirt dresses with multiple drawstrings askew, suggesting their mental state; the male patients wore shirts with extra-long sleeves, reminiscent of straight jackets.
Chalayan has a knack for making clothes that are simple, but with powerful details. The doctors’ surgical scrubs, for example, had a single strip of yellow ribbon attached partly to the chest, evoking the flat line on a heart monitor. And the nurses’ rather severe cement gray wrap dresses were reversible. As they morphed into angels, the drab gray was tied at the back to reveal yellow or pink lining inside and clear plastic wings.
The gala opening Friday brought out a good number of fashion glitterati, including Christy Turlington, model/actor Andre Boccaletti and DKNY Jeans’ president Susan Davidson, whose sister, Ruth, choreographed the opera.