One of the most interesting opera productions of summer 2018 has been “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi at Luglio Musicale Trapanese with the unconventional direction of Andrea Cigni. Operafashion has met the set and costume designer who worked on it, Tommaso Lagattolla. He’s an appreciated Italian theatrical creative, teacher of Show Business Costume Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bari, curator at the Fashion and Costume Museum of Palazzo Pitti in Florence.
What was your education?
My education is rather unusual: I studied violin at the Conservatory of Bari, where I graduated; at the same time, l attended art high school, then the Academy of Fine Arts. I stepped into the world of theatre costume design by chance: some friends told me about a competition to attend an international costume design school in Florence; I sent my sketches and, unexpectedly, I was admitted. From there, the passage to opera theatre came naturally, considering my training as a musician! I still remember the first opera I created the costumes for: it was “Didon” by N. Piccinni in 2001 in Bari.
Let’s talk about your job: how do you create a character?
Creation is neither a solitary nor a self-determined job: a convincing project always starts from a directorial idea that is re-interpreted by the costume designer, who must give life to characters and bodies that sometimes look unnatural. The task of a costume designer is to describe the psychology of a character through costumes. My creative process is very iconic and visual: I often try to find a compromise between high and low, even pop, references, so that the average viewer can grasp the sense behind a show. Generally, the original idea of a costume changes according to the artist who will perform as that character. In a production, I happened to have two casts and two primadonnas (with very different body structures): I made two slightly different dresses for them, in order to enhance their body shapes and their characters. It’s a complicated job.
Choose two favourite fashion designers – one from the past, one from today
I have no doubt: Cristobal Balenciaga! Master of cut and precision, able to create clean and elegant geometric shapes on the female body, able to project his influence to go beyond fashion… Not a designer but a real artist!
Among the designers of today, I like Rick Owens: I think he’s a genius! I love his artistic sensibility, the majestic allure of his creations, the integrity of his vision that reveals itself in what he does with shapes.
Let’s talk about the recent production of “La Traviata”. In his notes, the director Andrea Cigni recalls a letter, written by Verdi, where the Maestro lamented the production of a “pure and innocent” Traviata rather than a “whorish” one. How did you relate to Verdi’s indications?
In almost all the theatre productions of this opera Violetta wears 19th-century clothes, as if she were a noblewoman who couldn’t life her love story because of her illness. On the contrary, Andrea and I followed the meaning that Verdi wanted to give Violetta: she’s a whore who lives on art, music and entertainment. We used the film “The True Story of the Lady of the Camellias” by Mauro Bolognini as inspiration: here, Alfredo shows off a naked Violetta in front of his tailcoat-clad friends as if she were an object. We started from this point of view to transform the protagonist from an object of desire for the Parisian upper bourgeoisie to a desperate lover, up to the final redemption.
The primadonna of this production is the soprano Francesca Sassu. Did you work with her to create the costumes for Violetta?
In this project, working with Francesca Sassu was fundamental! We needed the “right” protagonist. Francesca, with her innate sensuality and snow-white skin, immediately reminded us of the burlesque queen Dita von Teese. Thanks to this connection, in the first act Violetta’s house is turned into a private club where a burlesque show takes place, guests wearing masks as in “Eyes Wide Shut” by Stanley Kubrick.
At this point we are very curious … Could you describe the clothes worn by Francesca Sassu as Violetta?
Francesca has four costume changes! For all the outfits of Violetta I tried to focus on the symbolic meaning of a few details and on three colors (red, white and black), so as to draw the audience’s attention on music and singing. In the first act, Violetta is the queen of burlesque: she wears a black sequined corset, ostrich feathers, a top hat.
In the second act, Violetta’s sacrifice is staged: she is an elegant bourgeois woman who sacrifices her love to allow the marriage of Alfredo’s sister; her dress is reminiscent of Chanel style.
Flora’s party takes place in a nightclub: the theme is Spain, shown through references to the Bejart version of “Bolero” by Ravel and to the work of Ruven Afanador. Violetta wears a long black dress with sequined inserts and a flounced flamenco skirt.
In the last act, redemption happens through death: Violetta, wearing a grey silk slip and cashmere cardigan, is shown with an IV in her arm; for a moment, a halo of light surrounds her, almost like a Madonna out of a painting by Francesco Hayez. She is a love martyr.
In a word, the secret of your job
I quote the brilliant Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: “To make an artist it takes one part of talent and nine parts of technique”.
Photo: Giò Vacirca, Giuseppe Di Salvo