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Fashion by itself is neither my forté nor my interest. But costumes for ballet, theatre and opera blended with choice of textures, materials, lighting and how everything comes together for the success of the story excites me. The showcase of French designer, Christian Lacroix's "the costumier" Exhibit at the Singapore National Museum carefully displayed the thought process from character to costume. At the same time bringing live again to century old operas, allowing the costumes to add a fine touch of the 21st century.

Christian Lacroix is known for defining the look of the 1980s with its bright colours and extravagant embellishments. We were told that he had a hand in curating the exhibit which was evident in his favourite colours of fresh red and black. The costumes from Carmen, Gaité Parisienne, Othello, Cosi Fan Tutte and Phèdre etc. (many of which were specially flown-in in special cases, to prevent the folding of the materials) were displayed behind a soft netted black fabric. The fabric is apparently used very commonly in theatre as a screen and provides a mysterious effect. To me, it was annoying having to photograph past the screen.

In Asia for the very first time, close to 80 spectacular costumes and 60 sketches from the collection of the Centre National du Costume de Scène (National Stage Costume Centre, Moulins, France) and from Lacroix’s personal collection were on display.

Apart from admiring the spectacular costumes, I was introduced to numerous opera and theatre works.

Costumes from "Eliogabalo" (Heliogabalus): an opera by the Italian composer Francesco Cavalli based on the life of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus
The author of the original libretto is unknown but it was probably reworked by Aurelio Aureli. The opera was composed in 1667 and premiered during the Carnival season of 1668 but it was withdrawn after only a few performances and replaced by another opera of the same name by Giovanni Antonio Boretti, perhaps because Cavalli's style was considered too old-fashioned. Eliogabalo was revived in 2004 by René Jacobs.

Heliogabalus or Elagabalus is best known for his disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos. He was married as many as five times and is reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace. Elagabalus replaced Jupiter, head of the Roman pantheon, with a new god, Deus Sol Invictus, and forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, which he personally led.

Amidst growing opposition, Elagabalus, only 18 years old, was assassinated and replaced by his cousin Severus Alexander on March 11, 222, in a plot formed by his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and members of the Praetorian Guard. Elagabalus developed a reputation among his contemporaries for eccentricity, decadence, and zealotry which was likely exaggerated by his successors and political rivals.

This propaganda was passed on and, as a result, he was one of the most reviled Roman emperors to early historians. For example, Edward Gibbon wrote that Elagabalus "abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures and ungoverned fury." "The name Elagabalus is branded in history above all others" because of his "unspeakably disgusting life," wrote B.G. Niebuhr.

Così fan tutte (Thus Do They All, or The School For Lovers) is an opera buffa by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte.

Così fan tutte is one of the three Mozart operas for which da Ponte wrote the libretto. The other two da Ponte-Mozart collaborations were Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Costumes from Carmen and Arsa y toma both flamenco pieces
Carmen is a French opéra comique by Georges Bizet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845, itself influenced by the narrative poem "The Gypsies" (1824) by Alexander Pushkin. Mérimée had read the poem in Russian by 1840 and translated it into French in 1852.

The opera premiered at the Opéra-Comique of Paris on 3 March 1875, but its opening run was denounced by the majority of critics. It was almost withdrawn after its fourth or fifth performance, and although this was avoided, ultimately having 48 performances in the first year, it did little to bolster sagging receipts at the Opéra-Comique. Near the end of this run, the theatre was giving tickets away in order to stimulate attendance. Bizet died on 3 June 1875, never knowing how popular Carmen would become. In October 1875 it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity. It was not staged again at the Opéra Comique until 1883.

Since the 1880s it has been one of the world's most performed operas and a staple of the operatic repertoire. Carmen appears as number four on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.

The story is set in Seville, Spain, c. 1830, and concerns the eponymous Carmen, a beautiful Gypsy with a fiery temper. Free with her love, she woos the corporal Don José, an inexperienced soldier. Their relationship leads to his rejection of his former love, mutiny against his superior, and joining a gang of smugglers. His jealousy when she turns from him to the bullfighter Escamillo leads him to murder Carmen.

Costumes from Phèdre which won Christian Lacroix his 1st of two Molière Award

Phèdre is a dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by Jean Racine, first performed in 1677. It is undoubtedly the most grand and dramatic set of costumes on display which had audiences going wow!

Colourful ballet tutus from Les Anges ternis floating above adding to the magical feel of the centre space

More Christian Lacroix the costumier Exhibit pictures


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