Jan 17, 2019

Harlequin Blog Series: Bringing Harlequin’s Costumes & Props to Life

By Ivars Taurins

One of the most-anticipated concerts of our 2018/19 season is the world premiere of The Harlequin Salon in January 2019. Following on the success of the multimedia performances created by double bassist Alison Mackay, these concerts will be created, scripted, and illustrated by oboist Marco Cera. We’ll be writing a monthly Harlequin blog post to take you behind the scenes as this production comes to life!

Marco Cera getting ready for The Harlequin Salon

What is involved in your role as costume and props consultant for The Harlequin Salon?

Marco Cera, the creator of the Harlequin Salon asked for my assistance in dealing with costumes and props for the program. With my interest in historical costume and all things related to the 18th century, I naturally accepted. I would take on the task of researching and designing the costumes for the various characters, as well as finding or creating “authentic” furniture and props for the stage set.

How did you become involved with this type of creation alongside your work as a musician?

It has all to do with my passion for the baroque period — art, decorative art, costume, architecture, food and drink, etiquette and deportment, and of course, music. When I took on the role of Handel for Sing-Along Messiah, my interest in historical dress led me to in-depth study and to constructing my own costume according to period patterns and techniques. It was a great challenge, and a lot of fun!

How many costumes and wigs will be in the concert and what characters will they be for? How do you go about searching for or creating these pieces?

After Marco showed me Ghezzi’s sketches of the various characters involved in his concert, I began researching the individual people and the costumes they would have worn, gleaning information not only from many Ghezzi sketches, but also from contemporary portraits. I also turned to the multitude of paintings of Venetian domestic scenes by Pietro Longhi. The overall sepia tone of Ghezzi caricatures and the predominance of olive-greens in Longhi’s interiors gave me a basic palette to choose materials, and one that appealed to the Stage Director, Guilluame Bernardi.

Cotton chintz in a pattern and colouring almost identical to Indian chintzes from the 18th century

Starting with the main characters, Ghezzi, Harlequin, and Faustina/Farinelli, I looked to paintings, sketches, and portraits as inspiration for their costumes.

Ghezzi often portrays himself wearing a banyan (a loose-fitting casual robe popular in 17th- and 18th -century Europe based on Japanese models), and a soft cap for informal in-house wear.

This is the attire for Marco as Ghezzi. I was able to find a cotton chintz in a pattern and colouring almost identical to Indian chintzes from the 18th century.

Harlequin wears the traditional comedia dell’arte costume of different coloured lozenge-shaped patches, and a soft felt hat with a rabbit’s tail. He also wears the distinctive and traditional Harlequin’s mask. I based the colour scheme on 17th- and 18th-century Italian paintings, and on some extant 18th-century Harlequin costumes.

Roberta Invernizzi has a dual role as the diva Faustina Bordoni and the castrato Farnelli. At the end of Act 1 Roberta goes behind a screen and has to change characters and costumes in approximately 2 minutes! Quite the costuming challenge!

As Faustina, Roberta wears the elegantly flowing Robe volante, seen in many Watteau and De Troy paintings, as well in the wonderful sketch of Faustina by Ghezzi. Roberta’s gown is a beautiful cinnamon-colour damask based on examples in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Kyoto Museum, Japan

Badge and star of the order for Farinelli costume

As Farinelli, Roberta gets to wear something more opulent, based on a portrait of the castrato by Amigoni. He wears a sleeved waistcoat in rose silk embellished with silver trim, proudly wearing the badge and star of the Order of Calatrava presented to him by King Philippe V of Spain. After finding an appropriately rich fabric, I was able to finally use the many metres of silver braid I had squirrelled away from a purchase many years ago while on tour with Tafelmusik! I also had to create the badge and star of the order.

The remaining characters on stage, Vivaldi and Bononcini, wear the typical costume of baroque musicians — the flowing banyan. There are portraits of both composers in these robes. I chose a brown floral silk for Elisa Citterio as Vivaldi, and a rich striped gold one for Felix Deak as Bononcini.

Furniture, table cloths, glassware, candlesticks, and the lavish dining table spread of fruit, marzipan, and sorbetta arranged according to 18th-century books on table settings, were all researched, hunted down, and procured, or brought out of storage from my own eclectic collection of fake fruit and period tableware (most of it amassed to decorate the table that appears onstage each year at Sing-Along Messiah), right down to the Florentine tray with silver chocolate pot and porcelain cups!

All of my research and designs would have been for naught had it not been for the creative genius of my dear friend and neighbour Franca Simone, who with her magic scissors, unerring eye, and nimble fingers, took the materials we hunted for together, and spent many, many hours skillfully tailoring these beautiful costumes — most from period patterns in museum collections. I’m deeply indebted to her patience, passion, humour, and artistry.

Harlequin Blog Series
The Harlequin Salon
Ivars Taurins
Marco Cera
Roberta Invernizzi