Elizabeth Gadsby is the brilliant mind behind all things costume and set for Opera Queensland’s Così fan tutte. We sat down with Elizabeth to unpack her vision for the visual feast, set on the Mediterranean coastline.
Patrick and I spoke a lot about relationships, and the performative nature of pursuit. How that evolves into revealing the authentic self and the myriad of forms that relationships take on the journey of negotiating the mutually agreed rules of any relationship. This is something that presents itself in different forms, through different time periods and social norms but essentially remains consistent.
What is your vision for the set design and costumes?
We wanted to establish a playful and romantic space, to speak to the rose-tinted glasses of early love. Then progressively strip away the fairy tale façade or the notion of love relationships and look at the exposed scaffolding of desire, manipulation, expectation, cynicism and altruism that plays out between the characters.
We were partly inspired by the opening credits of White Lotus Season 2. This idea of hidden symbols and meaning found within a trompe l’oeil. We lean heavily into this scenic technique in the first Act, creating a full visual world that plays on tropes of the traditional opera set.
In the second Act the world splinters and deconstructs. Elements remain or are reformed in an abstract or gestural manner. The introduction of video projection heightens the sense of observing and being observed, it supports the declaration of inner psychology of the characters through their Act 2 Aria.
The costumes are just glorious. Particularly when the men are in disguise, we are really playing with the image of the flamboyantly dressed heart throb. The women have packed for a romantic sea side holiday. There is colour, texture and pattern. I want to play with full silhouettes for the women that can deflate in the second act as they find themselves in an awkward romantic situations.
How will the production of the set by modernised aesthetically?
It sits in a world that straddles period and contemporary. They are contemporary characters on holiday but the trompe l’oeil and architecture are referencing neoclassical Italian villas from the 1500’s. These are buildings that still exist that you can visit and book through air bnb. But because the architectural language references that early period (though simplified and abstracted) it could almost be used in a period specific production. I enjoy that play and tension between the past and now that speaks to the ever evolving (but constantly replaying) nature of relationships.
Tell us a little about the development of the staging and how the production will move through/interact with it.
We have a created a space for ACT 1 that is dynamic in what it affords the staging. We experiment with interior and exterior spaces and what the delineation is between them. It is essentially an internal courtyard space between two bedrooms that is painted to look as though it is outside. The bedrooms also do not fully close off. They have sheer curtains that can be drawn but there is always the possibility of access to those spaces, it makes those private spaces somewhat public. We have the possibility to use shadow and silhouette inside the bedrooms and introduce the idea of voyeurism. There are hidden doors and windows so that as the first act progresses the integrity of the world starts to break, people enter from places unexpected. And these incursions into the fullness of the reality established are what starts to break the world apart.
We have a transition at the top of Act 2 when the built environment is deconstructed and withdraws. It will be a dramatic shift from one to the next and a feeling that the world is withdrawing.