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Campbell Live

The Marriage of Figaro gets denim makeover

Wednesday 14 Apr 2010 7:19 p.m.

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New Zealand Opera is going blue collar for their next production, The Marriage of Figaro.

Some may think of opera as a night out for the rich and snooty, but costume designer Elizabeth Whiting is hoping her creative designs will appeal to everybody.

Over the next few weeks she and her team will create the cast's clothing almost completely out of old jeans donated by the community.

Yes - pretty dresses are out and jeans are, surprisingly, in.

"This sort of very pretty costume separates a modern audience from the real storyline," says Whiting, "so what I wanted to do was to connect the audience more with the piece."

Whiting asked for people to donate old jeans, and a number of denim treasures came out of what must have been a very old, dark closet.

"We've got every generation of jeans from 1970s upwards," she says. "There's some great '80s numbers with pleats."

The Marriage of Figaro is set in 18th Century Spain, and most of the jeans will be used for the peasant costumes.

While whiting has drawn the designs, she's asked all her team to come up with ideas to bring them to life.

"The biggest challenge is you don't think jeans come in so many different shades," says Sophie Ham, "so the biggest challenge, that's three pairs, but trying to get them as close as possible in colours."

The well-loved denim has saved Whiting from having to artificially age the costumes.

"Designers have been working with it for years, and I've always wanted to have a play with it. I suppose it's been in the back of my head as something that I might be able to use at some stage, and when I was asked to do The Marriage of Figaro, that was my first idea."

The upper-class characters will be dressed in new fabric using jean techniques.

"We are putting together a patchwork for the Count's dressing gown," says Whiting. "For the Countess we want it to be very clean and clear, so we're using the different sides of the denim. So we'll use the lighter side then turn it over and do the decoration in the darker side, so it still links everything through."

There's a lot of trial and error in the early stages as the costumes are pieced together. Their creativity knows no bounds.


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