On the occasion of very applauded Riccardo Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini which will be on stage at Teatro alla Scala until May 13, Operafashion met the highly respected costume designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca.
Marie-Jeanne Lecca lives in London and works extensively in Opera. Marie-Jeanne received the Martinu Medal for “Julietta” and “The Greek Passion” and was nominated by Opernwelt Magazine as Costume Designer of the Year for “Maskerade” and “The Haunted Manor”. She was also part of the British team that won the “Golden Triga” at the 2003 Prague Quadriennale.
What was your education?
My artistic education began in my native Romania, at the Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Fine Arts in Bucharest, where I studied set and costume design. My professional experience was accomplished in the United Kingdom where I am living since 1984, and where I started working in opera.
Where does your passion for costumes come from?
I always liked the magic that comes with listening to stories and with telling the stories .
Designing sets and costumes is in fact illustrating a story, a story that originally might not belong to you but that you make your own. The costumes are part of the whole story – you can not really separate them-and the fact that I sometimes design both sets and costumes helps enormously because it gives me the ability to understand the costumes in the stage- space.
My interest in costumes is not in costume as such- but in the dramatic characters and the story they tell. All characters carry a story within themselves, describing and visualising their journey, the past and future, that is what I enjoy.
What would you do, if you weren’t a costume designer?
A gardener !!
What are your sources of inspiration?
Everything that surrounds me can be a source of inspiration- a piece of fabric, a painting in an exhibition, a photograph in a book, something i just read, a grafitti on the wall, a conversation with a friend. Your mind becomes like a set of drawers that stores all these visual elements, and hopefully brings them out at the right moment.
I always make a key image for the show i am working on- like a mini poster let’s say, that can be made of one or more images. It probably comes from the fact that in the 1980s in Romania the designer was responsible for also designing the poster of the show, and I designed quite a few.
Let’s talk about your last job: Zandonai’s “Francesca da Rimini” at Teatro alla Scala. How do you create the character of Francesca?
We started with the idea of the contrast between the harsh, military male world and the female world- surrounded by the romantic medieval revival, the troubadours and the knights in shining armour.
Is there a favorite costume among the ones you’ve designed for “Francesca da Rimini”?
One is bound to be subjective when choosing “a“ favourite costume- anyway… I would go for Francesca’s red and gold coat, because it gives you the feeling of her striving for freedom and feminine beauty.
If I had to choose a tableau from the show, I would choose the first scene with the giullare and the girls, as the colours and shapes read so well on the set, and again, it describes, for a moment, the freedom and excitement in a painter’s class.
What is your favorite opera production?
If we are talking about my own opera productions , I have a few: “The Greek Passion”, “Krol Roger” and “The Magic Flute” for the Bregenz Festival, “The Adventures of Mr. Broucek” for English National Opera in London, and the first “Carmen” I designed ( I am saying this because till now there have been three in total!) for Minnesota Opera, that then went everywhere in the United States, including Houston and Seattle.
Let’s talk about your relation to music and to opera…
I am not a musician and I can not read music – when I listen to music images come to mind, it is all very visual.
Your favorite designers – one from the past, one from the present.
My favourite opera designers from the past are Maria Björnson and Stefanos Lazaridis. From the present, still alive and working, Ralph Koltai.
What is the relation with the opera primadonnas you work with? And, in particular, with Maria Josè Siri as Francesca at Teatro alla Scala?
Generally speaking, with the singers, it is a very straight forward relationship: they have to feel comfortable when singing and I have to feel happy with the way they look and that I’ve done my very best to illustrate their character. Of course I have ideas about the character within the opera beforehand, but I never start designing the costume not knowing how the singer looks, there would be no point.
From the very beginning, Maria Josè was very open about her preferences and what was working for her, or not, which helped everybody to know how far they could go, and what could be achieved.
What do you think is the future of opera?
Like all other human instincts, the quest for beauty and the need to share this beauty and respond to it, will live for ever. Opera will never die.
At present I am in rehearsals with a Weill-Schönberg triple bill at the Opera du Rhin in Strasbourg where I am designing the sets and costumes. Further down the line this year , are Prokofiev’s “War and Peace” for Welsh National Opera in Cardiff and “Siegfried”, as part of the Ring Cycle in Chicago.
Photos: Karl Forster, Brescia&Amisano, Michal Daniel.
A special thanks to Teatro alla Scala, Milan.