Behind the scenes of “Giulietta e Romeo”at Valle d’Itria Festival: the costume designer Giuseppe Palella

One of the most interesting summer festivals in Italy is the one taking place in Martinafranca: this year its highlight is “Giulietta e Romeo” by N. Vaccaj, an almost forgotten opera which Bellini used as inspiration for his “Capuleti and Montecchi” .

Operafashion focuses its attention on Giuseppe Palella, costume designer of this production, highly appreciated by our readers and considered one of the most erudite theatre costume designers of today. We’ve met him in the magical setting of his Martinafranca theatre atelier.

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Although the librettist Felice Romani was not directly inspired by the Shakespearean tragedy, the masterpiece of the English playwright is still the main starting point. How did you approach the Shakespearean theater?

In our vision, Shakespeare could not be forgotten! My costumes include 16th-century elements – armours, braces, puffy shapes and jewels – seen in a timeless fashion.

How did you approach the project of the director Cecilia Ligorio?

Cecilia’s work started from the themes of mourning, forbidden love, war between rival families. The project has been a major challenge for a theatre costume designer: most of the costumes are black! Black is very difficult to use on stage because those wearing it tend to “disappear”. So I had to give the costumes perfect structures, “encrust” them with pearls, stones, fabric flowers and use different fabrics. For example, the Capulets – mourning the death of Juliet’s brother – wear black costumes embellished with heavy golden elements and multiple layers of fabric. Women’s dresses are designed to interact with the open space of the stage: the light silk skirts fly in the wind, always blowing in the evenings of Martinafranca.

foto Paolo Conserva — con Vasa Stajkic, Leonardo Cortellazzi e Paoletta Marrocu1

In this production there are three primadonnas: Leonor Bonilla in the role of Giulietta, Raffaella Lupinacci in the “en travesti” role of Romeo and Paoletta Marrocu in the role of Adele, Juliet’s mother. How did you relate to them in the creation of their stage personas?

In this project, the collaboration of the primadonnas was fundamental! Months ago I met each of them with the aim of creating costumes which could perfectly mirror their characters. In Florence Raffaella Lupinacci tried several “masculine” looks; in Venice we did a proper costume test with Leonor Bonilla, before sending the fabrics to Martinafranca, where they would be embroidered; in Udine we chose with Paoletta Marrocu a “salt and pepper” grey shade for her wig. Part of the work with them took place during the stage rehearsals: for example, at first Giulietta’s clothes were very puffy, but we had to tone them down because they hampered the soprano’s movements on stage.

At this point we are very curious … Could you describe Giulietta’s costumes?Giulietta changes clothes four times! Her wedding dress is extraordinary: hand-embroidered by four seamstresses from Martinafranca, it weighs 3 kg. It took them 36 hours to make it. It’s a privilege I will never forget.

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Let’s talk about Romeo’s costumes: creating men’s clothes for a super-feminine artist like Raffaella Lupinacci must have been really challenging.

Romeo’s costumes are made of silk satin and white velvet with small rusty red accents. There are also precious details such as trimmings and metallic elements in gold, lace and colored stones. The clothes are designed to highlight the beautiful posture of Raffaella on stage but also to show the courage and energy of a young man in love.

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Lupinacci_ph Marta Massafra

Paoletta Marrocu as Adele, Giulietta’s mother, wears a very interesting mourning dress.

True. The dress is reminiscent of Victorian mourning clothes: it’s black, made of heavy silk crepe, embellished with lavender or dark purple trimmings, fringes and beads. The costume has a complex structure of laces and whalebones: two dressmakers are needed to help the great Paoletta (always patient and up for anything) wear it. The soprano must also wear special protections not to get hurt on stage because she often falls on her knees, destroys jewellery and tears organza blouses: she attempts to catch her breath after seeing her daughter dead.

Paoletta Marrocu_ph Cecilia Vaccari

In one word, the secret of your job.

My curiosity!

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Photos: Paolo Conserva, Cecilia Vaccari, Marta Massafra, Giuseppe Palella.

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