Behind the design: Q&A with Libby McDonnell
2nd July, 2024

Behind the design: Q&A with Libby McDonnell

Currently Head of Design at Circa, Libby McDonnell is also the Costume Designer on upcoming mainstage Dido and Aeneas. We sat down with Libby to chat inspiration, concepts and ensuring cohesion onstage. Read more below!

What has inspired the costume design for Dido?

The costume design is a response to the overall concept behind the work. This is a piece about movement and music and so I’ve approached the design not from a historical or character perspective, but more from visual arts lense. I have taken concepts and used them to inform material choices and silhouettes.

Something that was important when conceptualising the costumes for Dido and Aeneas was the idea and challenge of ensuring cohesion when combining both the vocal chorus and acrobatic ensembles together. The aim was to enhance the power of movement and music when present onstage together.

What materials are the Dido costumes made of/how have they been adapted or designed to take into consideration acrobatic bodies?

This has been another new and exciting challenge! As we are aiming to combine the ensembles, the materials must be wearable and technically appropriate for both opera singers and acrobats.

We have worked with stretch power mesh and faux leather which we ordinarily wouldn’t use in for purely acrobatic pieces. However, we have been able to cleverly design some of the costume elements to accommodate that material. Something that has been interesting is the dual role of Dido and Sorceress and ensuring we differentiate the characters but also represent a strong relationship by connecting them.

Both characters wear long sleeved dresses – Dido in a black sequinned dress which is inspired by a 1940s cabaret type artist. It has a snakeskin like quality so when she sheds on stage and transforms into the sorceress, there is an echo of a relationship there.

Are there any costume or costume moments you are particularly excited for?

I am excited for the transformation moments which Anna Dowsley will do as Dido. I’m also very proud of the achievement of combining the acrobatic and chorus ensembles, a technical feat! The tailoring that has gone into Aeneas’ suiting is also fantastic and will really enhance his character status and masculinity.

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