Costume design by Mattie Ullrich
Artist Georgia O’Keefe said “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.” Whether it is a conscious choice or something you unknowingly do, we all assign feelings, emotions, and moods to colors. Some nights we want to feel elegant, and we throw on that little black dress or suit, while during the day maybe a playful palette of pastels is necessary. Many people believe that colors can even be healing. Dating back to the 900s, “color therapy” has even been used to treat illness and disease. Color clearly plays an important role in our lives and throughout history. Costume design is no different. Color helps set the mood, move the piece along, and it unifies the production.
As you may know by now, next season The LA Opera will be doing a production of Verdi’s The Two Foscari . The costume designer is Mattie Ullrich, who is based out of New York, so I sat and talked to the costume supervisor Misty Ayres about the production.
Misty informed me that Mattie’s design concept is a mixture of medieval and modern runway fashion. Mattie prefers to use solid colors rather than texture, pattern, and print. Misty excitedly told me that personally she sees this production as a “dark comic book.”
In any production, whether it has a “comic book feel” or is a strict period piece, the designer has to consider many different aspects before settling on the color palette. The colors of each costume must be complementary (or intentionally not complementary) to the other colors in the ensemble. In addition every character’s costume on stage must work together to convey a mood and bring out the essence of the piece. Color is also a great way to show the social ranking of a character. For example, during Act I of Foscari, the chorus men will be in red and black because they are “noble” and “wise”.
Colors can shift throughout the show, taking the audience on a visual journey and showing the transformation, evolution, or de-evolution of the characters. You will be able to see the shift of Lucrezia’s mental state reflected through the changing of her color palette.
Color can also be a great way to change focus onto different characters or groups of characters. In Foscari during Act III most of the onstage cast will be in muted tones which will blend into the set. The exception will be the band of “players” who will be in a mostly jewel-toned palette so they stand out from the scenery and the other performers.
Misty also informed me of a fun fact: Mattie does not like buttons. (Your mission as the audience: see if you can spot any sort of closures on the garment during the production.)
The Two Foscari opens September 15, 2012.