Wednesday, 06 May 2015 10:56

Costume Storytelling at Opera Grand Rapids

Written by  Allison Parker
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Tosca
Opera Grand Rapids
DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids
May 1-2, 7:30 p.m.
$25-89, students: $5
operagr.org, (616) 451-2741

Strangers to opera might say it’s about singing, but anyone who has actually watched one will tell you it’s about so much more. The piercingly high notes and booming bass tones take audiences on a journey — both to a specific time and place and to the particular emotions of individuals.

In its production of Tosca, Opera Grand Rapids takes audiences into the characters’ private worlds, due in part to the work of nine senior fashion studies students from Kendall College of Art and Design.

Under the guidance of Opera Grand Rapids Costume Supervisor Patti Campbell, each student created a unique design rendering for each of Tosca’s six principal characters. One student’s set of costumes will be worn onstage during the actual performance.

While some aspects of costuming were not completely foreign to the fashion students, the project did require some of the seniors to venture into unfamiliar territory. To create costumes that were not just beautiful but also accurate reflections of character personality and historical setting, students conducted extensive research.

“I asked (the students) to research, and every time I met with them and got another set of drawings, I said, ‘You need to dig deeper,’” said Campbell. “I said, ‘Research the economy, the politics and the fashion of the day, of course — where they were at in the history of fashion in Italy. And try to get inside the head of Tosca and Cavaradossi and Scarpia to understand what would they put on that morning.’”

An additional challenge the students faced was designing clothing that contributed to pre-existing storylines and characters. Rather than purely expressing their own ideas and artistic preferences, students had to focus on the themes and aesthetics of Tosca.

“With fashion, you’re creating the story, but with costumes, you’re telling the story through the costumes. … You’re not creating the story, you’re telling the story,” Campbell said.

Through accurate and expressive costuming, Tosca aims to unfold a story that is not only believable but also gripping.

“As an audience member, I think when that person looks at the costumes on stage, they’re going to hopefully be taken back in time to what people were wearing. That‘s the whole idea of the costume — the clout that the correct costumes will do. They will pull you in, and they will hold you there so that you’re there back in time again. And that’s really the goal,” Campbell said.

In addition to being an excellent challenge for Kendall’s fashion design seniors, the Tosca collaboration has been also valuable in continuing the Opera’s tradition of fostering community in Grand Rapids and exciting youth about opera.

“This is gonna be a great event for the community, to pull together Kendall into the opera,” Campbell said. “We’re lucky: It’s just a fantastic, great opportunity.”


OTHER PERFORMING ARTS EVENTS

Rain: a Tribute to the Beatles
Broadway Grand Rapids
May 13, 7:30 p.m.
$27.50-57.50
broadwaygrandrapids.com, (616) 235-6285

Rediscover one of the greatest sensations in music history with this multimedia celebration of the world’s most legendary boy band. Now boasting even more Beatles hits than ever, this production of Rain showcases the most beloved tunes in the Beatles’ anthology. A nostalgic valentine to the ’60s music scene, the tribute features mop-top haircuts, vintage costumes and a good dose of old-school charm.

Beethoven
Grand Rapids Ballet
May 8-10, 15-17; show times at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
$32-40
grballet.com, (616) 454-4771

In this exciting world premiere, ballet probes into the emotional depths of one of music’s most brilliant minds. Through the expressive power of the human body, choreographer Mario Radacovsky leads audiences on an exploration of Beethoven’s passionate soul and troubled spirit. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 provides a stirring musical context and dramatic backdrop for the dancers’ movements.

Kinky Boots
Wharton Center, East Lansing
May 26-31, showtimes at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. & 8 p.m.
$34-74
whartoncenter.com, (517) 353-1982

The high-stepping winner of six Tony Awards including Best Musical, Kinky Boots testifies to the power of unlikely friendships. Inspired by true events, the story focuses on Charlie Price, the owner of a shoe factory on the brink of bankruptcy. Business seems like a bust until Charlie meets Lola, a drag queen who happens to know of a niche clientele in need of special footwear. As Charlie teams up with Lola to create fabulous gender-bender heels, he learns valuable lessons about love and acceptance.

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