IU Opera brings a steampunk aesthetic to ‘L’Etoile’ production

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Linda Pisano, professor of costume design, points out some of the details in the costumes that make them steam punk during preparation for next week's steam punk style L'Étoile, at the Musical Arts Center.

Linda Pisano, professor of costume design, points out some of the details in the costumes that make them steam punk during preparation for next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.  (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

If illogical world leaders wore their true colors on the outside, they might be dressed like the comic villain in Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater’s next production.

Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier’s “L’Etoile” (French for “The Star”) opens Friday at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington. Written in 19th century France, it stars King Ouf, who celebrates his birthday by looking for someone to execute. When he meets a traveling salesman who he hopes to use to fulfill his birthday wish, he’s warned by his astrologer that Lazuli’s death will result in his own.

Director Alain Gauthier brought his vision of the surreal opera to Bloomington. The Montreal-based director, who has worked on productions of “L’Etoile” for professional opera companies, felt it called for a less traditional look and feel that echoed the time and place of its creation. He chose steampunk, a style known for incorporating metallics, steam-powered machinery and the technology of the 19th century.

Sometimes, Gauthier said, a steampunk-inspired aesthetic can appear dark and gloomy, integrating dark, metallic colors. However, “L’Etoile” has traditionally been produced with vibrant colors to capture the farcical qualities of the writing.

“If you Google ‘L’Etoile,’ you’ll see plenty of different, very colorful photos of productions,” he said. “It’s what it calls for … the possibilities are infinite.” The goal, he said, was to make the visual language match the story and music.

When brainstorming began for the show’s set, Gauthier’s inspiration played off of the science, technology and metal of 19th-century Paris. Set designer Tim McMath started by incorporating a metallic look with a greenish tint that captured the industrial feel of the era, and the color scheme evolved from there.

Gauthier wanted to integrate aspects of fantasy and fairy tale into the look of the production by introducing vibrant colors and shiny fabrics. “The piece calls for it, because it’s very silly,” he said. “There’s no boundaries when you have such a farce.”

As the color palette expanded to encompass that silly nature, new shades of pink and purple made their way into the design, along with brighter, shinier metallics. The colors and styles extend to the costumes, which represent different types of people in the story.

Costume designer Linda Pisano described the three classes of characters that appear on stage as oppressed, working class citizens; the court inside the palace; and visitors from elsewhere who disguise themselves as tailors. Each style takes steampunk aesthetics into a new direction with its own colors.

Costume designer Linda Pisano's renderings for L'Étoile show her vision for its characters.

Costume designer Linda Pisano’s renderings for “L’Etoile” show her vision for its characters.

Bright colors and steampunk styles blend with the clothing of the era in Pisano’s designs. She combined a Victorian gothic style with punk and glam rock elements — “sort of David Bowie, but with a more 18th-century effect,” she said — to give an air of pretension to the courtiers’ overall look.

“It will be very obvious on the set who belongs to the working class (autumnal colors), the outsider/visitors (black and gray) and the courtiers (fuchsia, lime, pastels, yellow),” Pisano wrote in an email. “It will be clear that the king controls this world. The root of the working class steampunk and the visiting gothic punk has firmly landed in the late 19th century. The courtiers have their root in 16th-18th century (which is a very broad range of three centuries) coupled with very modern elements (i.e. leopard skin leggings and leather) for not only fun visual candy to bring out the silliness of this court, but in some ways demonstrate the decadence and ostentatious world of an opulent yet oppressive monarchy.”

To make the visitors look more like outsiders when dropped into the bright pink and gold of the sets, they’re in darker, more classic steampunk attire. And because they’re in disguise, their look is more subtle. Defining the social classes is part of what makes the show more accessible, Pisano said. “This is a farce, and bringing a non-conventional silhouette provides a fun, if not quirky, sensibility for the audience.”

Audiences will be able to see King Ouf’s madness on the outside for the next two weekends as he takes the stage in his attire of opulent pink, gold and blinding rhinestones.

Props to be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

 

Linda Pisano, center, professor of costume design, and Sarah Akemon, left, wardrobe supervisor, help fit performer Patrick Conklin, a first year master’s student, during preparation for L’Etoile at the Musical Arts Center. (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

Props to be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

 

Gwen Law, props master at Indiana University, right, and her assistant, Olivia Dagley, work on a chair that transforms into a replica of the Eiffel Tower. To be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Étoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Opera & Ballet Theater

WHAT: “L’Etoile” by Alexis Emmanuel Chamber.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21

WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $16-$43; $10-28 for students. Reserved seating. Available at the MAC box office; 812-855-7433, music.indiana.edu/opera

© Herald-Times 2017

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