The theatrical costume is a paradox: it hides, yet at the same time, communicates revealing aspects of a character; it is made to be seen from afar, yet the designers and costume makers care for the tiniest details, even if invisible. Each costume contains thousands of secrets, from colour combining to decoration, from the choice of a fabric to the technique to create a form. And behind the various techniques that make it possible, the resulting creation has precise aesthetic choices, decisions on taste, hints at the spirit of time, in addition to the imagination and the particular eye of each costume designer.
Twenty-four costumes that have been seen on the stage of La Scala over the past 80 years can be viewed at Palazzo Reale in Milan until the end of January 2018 in an exhibition curated by Vittoria Crespi Morbio. The exhibition celebrates forty years of the Amici della Scala, an association that provides events and publications illustrating and commenting on the theatre's productions and its history.
The costumes are examples of the work of some of the most important names to have worked in the theatre. Caramba, from the Toscanini years, Franco Zeffirelli, Anna Anni, and Oscar winners Piero Tosi, Gabriella Pescucci and Franca Squarciapino. There's Pier Luigi Pizzi, the fashion designers Gianni Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, and others.
These costumes were made for productions by the likes of Luchino Visconti, Giorgio Strehler, Luca Ronconi, Liliana Cavani, Robert Wilson and Robert Carsen, and worn by Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Carla Fracci, Rudolf Nureyev, Boris Christoff, and so on.
The exhibition is laid out in four sections:
From ‘30s to the ‘60s
Tradition: Alexandre and Nicola Benois, Lila De Nobili, Franco Zeffirelli, Piero Tosi.
Divas: Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi.
From the ‘60s to the ‘80s
The period costume and research.
Dance: Rudolf Nureyev and Carla Fracci.
The fashion designers.
I costume designers of Giorgio Strehler and Luca Ronconi.
From the ‘90s to today
Costumes for Liliana Cavani, Robert Wilson, Robert Carsen.
The oldest exhibit is the costume of Isabella in L'Italiana in Algieri, created by Caramba (Luigi Sapelli) in 1933. One of Karl Lagerfeld's costumes for Luca Ronconi's production of Les Troyens and Gianni Versace's costume for Montserrat Caballé in Robert Wilson's Salome are included. There is Franco Zeffirelli's costume for Maria Callas as Donna Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia in 1955, as well as her costume by Piero Tosi for La sonnambula the same year. Alexandre Benois is represented by his design for Renata Tebaldi as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin in 1954, and his son Nicola Benois with a creation for Boris Christoff as Boris Godunov.
Ballet costumes include the Prince/Drosselmeyer costume worn by Rudolf Nureyev for his 1969 production of The Nutcracker and Luisa Spinatelli's 1987 design for Carla Fracci in La Fille Mal Gardée.
Maurizio Millenotti's sculpted costumes for the stepmother and stepsisters in Mauro Bigonzetti's 2015 production of Cinderella are the most recent in the collection.
Many of the costumes after years in storage have been restored by Atelier Brancato, and the Restauro Tessile Lombardo worked on the costumes from Aida, Eugene Onegin, and La sonnambula.
Incantesimi. I costumi del Teatro alla Scala dagli anni Trenta a oggi
Milan, Palazzo Reale, 10 ottobre 2017 – 28 gennaio 2018
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.