Dramatically Roman: The Costumes of HADRIANBy COC StaffPosted in 18/19
“They’re definitely Roman-inspired,” says award-winning Canadian designer Gillian Gallow of the costumes she has conceived for Hadrian, the new opera by Rufus Wainwright. “But there is also an extremely theatrical and modern perspective to it.”
Guided by a strong belief that the opera stage requires a heightened sense of reality - a visual language of grand gesture that communicates as effectively to the audience in the fifth balcony as it does to those in the front row - Gillian has designed costumes she calls “dramatically Roman.”
The garments are rooted in historical detail, pattern, and
colour, but they’re also scaled to the opera stage, carefully tailored to meet the dramatic and emotional demands of the world’s biggest performing art form.
See more costumes from Hadrian (with notes from designer Gillian Gallow)
Hermogenes, Hadrian’s doctor
“We begin the story in mourning, in a place of death. So, as you can imagine black is part of that picture.” Colour is a critical storytelling device throughout Hadrian, delineating past and present, as well as situating the audience geographically within the many locales in the story.
colourthat was used during the Roman period which was very difficult and very expensive to produce - Tyrian purple - and emperors’ togas were this colour. Craftsmen had to gather thousands of marine snails and boil them to harvest chemicals that could be transformed into this valuable dye. When you read Roman history, they say the closest colouryou can imagine to Tyrian purple is garnet. So when Hadrian gets dressed on stage into his toga, we’ve chosen this kind of garnet/Tyrian-purple-based reddish colour.”
“When we go to Act II, it’s a celebration. We want the world to explode into
colour. So we have the chorus, as one group, in vibrant costumes influenced by Minoan frescoes and statues. These costumes are quite an unusual thing that most of us, working on this show, haven’t dealt with before. They’re meant to be sculptural, so we got all this fabric laminated onto foam. All the skirts that both men and women wear are actually fabric-covered foam material. It’s still soft, but it’s meant to look like a sculpture. Their skirts move like bells around them, so they have this quality where they stay in shape no matter what happens.”
“The designs in Act III are partly based on Gustav Klimt and especially his gold leaf paintings. The really interesting thing about Klimt for us was the decadence, that sense of dripping excess, which is so important to what happens in Act III. The gold
colourallowed us to theatricalize those circumstances of extreme indulgence.”
“Versace did a runway show in 2015 that was very Greek-inspired and Hadrian himself was known for his love of Greek culture, for referencing Greek art and customs, and for championing a Hellenic revival in Rome. So when it came time to imagine Antinous, we were inspired by Versace’s melding of this contemporary aesthetic with the period look.”
Check out the music of Hadrian with Maestro Johannes Debus.
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All preliminary costume sketches by Gillian Gallow.