Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Germany
It is perhaps every opera costume designer’s dream to design Verdi’s Aida. I was certainly very happy about being given the opportunity to design this legendary opera classic which has been performed without stop since its opening at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House in 1871. Although Aida is truly an excellent opera, its longevity may have something to do with the fact that it is so elaborate. Most opera addicts immediately think of elephants majestically crossing the stage in the famous Triumphant Scene in Act II, Scene 2 (with stage hands in costumes surreptitiously removing the not too aromatic evidence of the elephants’ passage). With the exception of the Triumphant Scene, the opera is actually quite intimate.
The production of Aida that I designed at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Germany did not turn out what I had expected. To begin with, director David Pountney and scene designer Robert Israel could not find a way to stage the Triumphant Scene. It was soon clear that there was some obstacle which prevented them from being able to face up to this important element of the opera.
Radames, an Egyptian military leader has returned in triumph to Memphis after defeating Ethiopian King Amonasro. Radames is in love with his captured daughter, Aida, who loves him in return. Unfortunately, Amneris daughter of Egyptian king is also in love with Radames.
The grandness of Radames’ triumphant entry is important musically and dramatically since Amonasro is now Radames’ captive
My costumes for Aida were quite stark in shape but not in color. I utilized some elements of Ancient Egyptian clothing but translated them into an abstract language of shape, texture and color.
Ultimately, neither Robert Israel nor I saw the production through. Robert Israel was severely injured on the stage of Bayerische Staatsoper . He never returned to Munich. I also became ill and was not able to come back to Munich for the dress-rehearsals of the opera. I saw the production some years later when it was revived in Munich, and I did not recognize my own work. Without my presence, the need to create the costumes that I designed somehow went away.
Next production, Luisa Miller.