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Cleopatra’s State – an Interview with Costume Designer Agostino Cavalca

10 JAN 2012

published in: Opera

Agostino Cavalca, Christa Lamberz, Photo: Renate Bienert
Agostino Cavalca, costume designer for the production Giulio Cesare in Egitto, was in Salzburg before Christmas to discuss his designs with the Salzburg Festival’s costumes and make-up team. Cavalca has already worked with Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, the stage directors for this production, for 17 years. Forming a regular leading team together with stage designer Christian Fenouillat and lighting designer Christophe Forey, they have brought forth many successful opera productions. Cavalca said that the cooperation works perfectly “because we give consideration to each other and discuss all our ideas in a very open-minded way”.

Giulio Cesare had its world premiere on February 20, 1724 at the Haymarket Theatre in London, which commanded the best singers of its time under the artistic directorship of Handel. Doubtlessly, this can also be claimed for the Salzburg cast – Cecilia Bartoli is joined by Anne Sofie von Otter, Andreas Scholl, Philippe Jaroussky and others. Agostino Cavalca has worked with Cecilia Bartoli several times previously (Il turco in Italia, Clari, and Otello).

It is the first time he is involved in a Salzburg production, the Italian-born designer says when discussing the stages of his international career. He began in the theater – with plays by Goethe, Shakespeare and Racine – and worked in London and Berlin before arriving in Paris, where he has lived since 1980. Thus, it is no surprise that the meeting with the Festival team takes place in several languages – ideas are bandied about in English, Italian, German, French and even Russian.

Today, however, the costume designer is fully dedicated to opera and convinced that “for singers the challenge is even bigger than for their theater colleagues: today, they have to be able to sing excellently and also be fantastic actors.” In order to allow them to demonstrate all that, he creates costumes that are especially easy to wear and allow the singers to live up to their physical challenges. “The singers are expected to give their all, and most importantly, to show their character.” Using the role of Cornelia as an example, Cavalca explains what he means: “I actually think the term ‘costume designer’ is outmoded; I see myself more as a ‘designer of characters’. I created one costume for Cornelia which is going to be produced three times. Because the costume – like the person – goes through different stages. First Cornelia appears as an elegant lady; but through the course of events, her costume is dirtied and torn. The costumes of the other figures also develop along with their characters and the situations they encounter. Giulio Cesare is a work of many contrasts: East meets West, love encounters hatred, romance meets death, and many figures endure the fateful fall from the very top, from a good position, to complete dissolution. I try to transport all that with my costumes as well.”

Cavalca’s approach is a creative process: the basic ideas are being developed now, and fine-tuning takes place during the rehearsal phase in Salzburg. His luggage contains some large-scale portfolios which he calls his “style bibles”. In them, he collects photographs, reproductions of paintings, clippings from advertisements and texts on the historic figures. This “universe of thoughts” is the backdrop for the costume designs. We have promised not to reveal which of the figures Cavalca has developed the greatest affection for during his six months of preparation. But his vivid descriptions of the opera show that he feels an intimate connection with all of them.

Giulio Cesare has its premiere on May 25, 2012. The performances at the Whitsun Festival are already sold out. To order tickets for the series of performances during the Summer Festival, please click here.