There are no elephants and gaudy sculptures to be found at the Glimmerglass Festival’s staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s epic opera seria Aida, which recently kicked off the 2012 season in Cooperstown, New York. Instead, opera-goers will witness a milked down, updated production of the overblown Egyptian tragedy.
“Every time I have directed Aida before this summer, I’ve done it on a very large scale,” said director Francesca Zambello. “Now, to do an intimate version of it is a thrilling discovery for me. The chance to focus on the characters and not on spectacle has allowed us to understand the story and Verdi’s music in what feels like a very fresh and contemporary way.”
One aspect of the opera that does get a dose of opulence is the costume design. Up-and-coming New York fashion designer Bibhu Mohapatra was tapped to create the couture for the production, which runs through August 25.
“I turned to Bibhu—whose clothes I wish I could wear all the time—to create a world that is evocative of the contemporary Middle East, but that could create its own mythic language,” the director told The Observer. Ms. Zambello was delighted with Mr. Mohapatra’s results, saying, “His understanding of character and translating it into color and fabric and design has been revelatory for all of us in the theater.”
Below the jump, we speak to Mr. Mohapatra about his first swing at designing opera costumes.
Designing for opera! How was that?
It was an amazing experience. I loved every bit of it. I have always loved Aida and when Francesca invited me to design the costumes for the Glimmerglass production, I was ecstatic. The Glimmerglass Festival has an amazing team that works tirelessly on every production every summer. I had a ball working with the costume shop, which is run by Jodi Zanetti.
What do you think of Aida as an opera?
To me, Aida is a perfectly balanced story for an opera. It has everything in it. Love, passion, sorrow, joy, courage, honor, power, celebration and mourning…all weaved in to one story of love and sacrifice. The story is a great landscape for designing costumes for each character, principals and chorus.
What was the best part of this experience?
Coming from a fashion background, the most exciting part for me was the preparation before actually designing. I had multiple meetings with Francesca Zambello, Lee Savage, Eric Sean Fogel and Jodi Zanetti to find out about the setting, to get into the story, into each character and the roles they play. The balance between the contemporary setting and the traditional story and music presented me with the exciting challenge of coming up with design ideas for each character including the chorus. It’s like Aida in modern haute couture.
Had you ever visited Glimmerglass or Cooperstown before?
Yes, I have been to Glimmerglass before. Last summer I saw the production of Medea and A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck… Loved it. It is a great setting on the Lake Otsego. In Cooperstown, there is the Baseball Hall of Fame; I have not been there yet.
What would be your biggest fashion advice for Glimmerglass folk?
I really do not have any fashion advice for Glimmerglass. But maybe the baseball aficionados can dress more colorful and fun and try to take advantage of the Glimmerglass Festival more? For Glimmerglass, I hope they keep the interesting mixture of talent that they bring together every summer. This is what sets it apart from others.