12 looks from Lucia di Lammermoor

Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, a bel-canto marvel, has been enchanting audiences ever since it premiered in 1835, with its compelling combination of gothic romance/drama, exquisitely ’exotic’ setting on the Scottish moors, and sweet, haunting music. 

Here’s a list of some choice costumes for Lucia’s haunting tale: from the outfits she traverses the story in, to the famed „mad scene“ dress. For a discussion on the uses of tartan (SO. MUCH. TARTAN) and the men’s costumes in this opera overall, you’ll have to wait for a different article – sometime in the near future.

Opera Bastille, 2016/17

This production by Opera Bastille went industrial with its setting, so the costumes are appropriate for the choice of era. Lucia is, then, for the most part dressed in late 19th century workwoman’s clothes: simple, straightforward blue set with an apron on top – instead of something befitting a lady of the original tale’s social status.

Photo by: Sebastian Mathé. Source: operadeparis.fr

Opera Bastille, 2016/17

The simplistic silhouette of this dress (which takes note of peasant garb of the period) feels very fairytale-like, Bavarian-esque (think Hansel and Gretel) – and the lace detail on the sleeves is quite lovely.
These are well-made costumes which achieve what they set out to do, following the director’s creative choice, but, ultimately, not much to write home about. A shame, since the amazing voice of Pretty Yende (star on the rise!) would do well in a similarly spectacular fit.

Photo by: Sebastian Mathé. Source: operadeparis.fr

Grand Opera de Paris, ca. 1889

This precious document of late 19th century costuming comes straight from the studio of one Felix Nadar, worn by Australian soprano Nellie Melba – the diva who pioneered the spectacle of the mad scene. 
First things first – the hairpiece is lovely and discrete, and the soft curled bangs are the epitome of fin de siècle hair trends. Now to address the sheer volume and detail: the wide cuffs and the deep, low V of the bodice recall the Edwardian setting of the libretto, and the extensive embroidering and barely perceptible pearl chainz contribute to a nicely balanced look, certainly incredibly striking on stage.

Source: picryl.com

English National Opera, 2008

Designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel went full-on buttoned-up demure Victorian bride with this gorgeous piece (here seen on Anna Christy in 2013, in the Canadian Opera revival of the OG production). 
The buttons extending from the collar bone to the navel give it a nice structure; the discrete jewelry is elegant; the ivory tones of smooth silk and soft puff of the sleeves make this seem like the coziest dress for murder. No wonder this production won an Olivier Award!

Photo: Michael Cooper. Source: flare.com

Greek National Opera, 2018/19

This production still is, first of all, absolutely mesmerizing, echoing the mise-en-scène of an intimate Baroque painting. The depth of scene reminiscent of film sets makes this rich co-production with the Royal Opera House (by director Katie Mitchell) stand out from the rest on this list. That being said, let’s take a look at the famed stage designer Vicki Mortimer’s costume for the wedding scene. 

Greek National Opera, 2018/19

Simple ¾ length sleeves, the gentle detailing on the neckline, and, again, the V-shaped bodice with the wide, layered skirt in an off-white shade set Lucia apart from the rest of the cast, and the flowery veil adds a very nice soft touch. 
It’s a modern-looking, sleek design you’re sure to find (perhaps without the petticoat) on many a bride even today. Owing precisely to its middle-of-the road-ness (we don’t deny it’s a great costume!), not our favorite on today’s list.

Photo: Stephen Cummiskey. Source: Greek National Opera Facebook

Palau des artes, 2019

Okay, now this is a „mad scene“ we can get behind. Jessica Pratt (not her last appearance in this article) looks positively unhinged wielding her bed post. 
The wild, loose hair, adorned with flowers, the huge bell sleeves, and the underbust cut of the dress, give this Lucia a witchy, ’bad moon rising’ look, which makes Jorge Jara’s design stand out in a lovely way.

Operaház, 2019

Okay, we weren’t sure if we should include this look in the article simply because we dislike it so, so much. 
Opera legend Edita Gruberova said her final farewell to the stage during the previous season and did so with several European productions, notably a run of Lucia with the Hungarian Operahaz.

Now, we understand some things need to be taken into account: the advanced age of the diva, and the presumably tight budget the designer was on. Still, Gruberova turned out some great, layered looks in the first act, setting up great expectations for her final scene – and yet we get this instead. This plain frock is less shock and gore, and more clumsy tie-dye, robbing the finale of its necessary punch – and the diva of the show-stopping look she deserved.

Photo: Operahaz

Emma Albani, late 19th century

Sometimes less is more, but in opera, more is always more. So we don’t mind the bulky, restrictive-looking bust with the unnecessarily ruffled sleeves– though we do take some issue with the striped detail on the skirt. 
The huge sheer veil, contrasted with a truly ungodly amount of pearls, wrapped around her wrists and neck like chains? Perfection. 
Emma Albani, who performed this opera in theatres in Florence, Malta, and the famed Covent Garden during the 1870s (we’re not sure which production this picture is from), presents a soft, youthful Lucia, whose innocence and sheltered (but fancy) upbringing are heavily accented by her costume. 
10/10 depiction of a tragic opera heroine.

Florida Grand Opera, 2017

Now here’s an interesting choice.
Keeping in with the expected motifs (red on white, virginal yet sinister), designer Liz Ascroft chooses a matching set for the mad scene – an airy house robe and a simple undergarment beneath. 
It’s less provocative, in terms of evoking both the sensuality and sheer terror of the bedchamber on a first wedding night, and it’s got more of a ’elegant lounging on the sofa on Sunday ’ vibe. 

Photo: Chris Kakol. Source: schmopera.com

Florida Grand Opera, 2017

Minor faults: the length of the dress is just a tiny bit off, and we’re not keen on the midriff big hanging knot, yet Anna Christy is obviously having lots of fun with it, and that’s something we can always appreciate. 
The blood spatter, too, is just right.

Photo: Chris Kakol. Source: schmopera.com

The Australian Opera, 1980

What is there to say about this design sketch, except for WOW. A look fit for a queen – that is to say, grande dame Joan Sutherland. 
The gown is stupendous, true to the Stuart-era setting of Sir Walter Scott’s novel; the big puffy sleeves simply scream DRAMA; the tartan scarf, carefully pinned in place, is a nod to Lucia’s Scottish heritage. 

Design by Michael Stennet.

The Australian Opera, 1980

The unraveling of layers, which follows, reveals a delicate side to our poor protagonist, and the heavy material from which the underlayer is made of keeps things interesting, with great woosh effect. Pristine white yet impeccably dramatic: it’s all in the drapes, folks.

Source: Wikimedia

San Francisco Opera, 2015/16

Miss Nadine Sierra, serving us some Cinderella realness. 
Okay, we’re not sure if we’re supposed to hate this look by Mattie Ulrich. It is definitely Disney-fied to the point where it feels like it belongs to a story much, much different than the grim Scott/Donizetti fable, and yet… We literally can’t make ourselves critique something which was designed with such obvious love and attention. 

Photo: Cory Weaver. 
Source: sfopera.com.

San Francisco Opera, 2015/16

We can’t not admire the departure from the heavy, aristocratic, and period-accurate dresses to something this fairy-light, and the choice to transition from a dark autumnal palette to a gentle baby blue. The dropped waist is appropriately one step farther than was necessary, making this a very costumey costume, and the sweetheart neckline adds to the effect. 
We won’t waste words on the actual „mad scene“ outfit, as it’s simple, plain, and adds nothing much to the scene as opposed to this piece of gorgeous fluff that boldly goes against everything the gothic grime of Lucia di Lammermoor stands for.

Photo: Cory Weaver. 
Source: sfopera.com

La Scala, 1955

Maria Callas at La Scala 1955. Not only an iconic performance, at the very beginning of her career, but one that showcases bold choices in costumography for the final scene, departing from the usual 19th century-inspired undergarments.

The few pictures of the costume showcase the most wondrous pleated cape (drawing on the 1950s sudden boom of capes being back in fashion, babay), extending as Lucia makes her invocations to ghosts and the living alike.

The silhouette recalls the airy, sleek designs of Belle Époque stage drama. Even if it weren’t the “The Tigress” herself, we would love this all the same.

The Metropolitan, 2011

Ladies and gentleman, the moment you’ve been waiting for: yes, the production some see as the definitive contemporary Lucia of Lammermoor
We don’t disagree – Natalie Dessay absolutely lit up the Met with her voice and stage presence, and her frail frame carries out the „mad scene“ to pitch perfection. There is little to nitpick on in this production and much to love – especially the gloves (oh the gloves!!!), and the torn strap, which feels just dramatically right. 
And that’s just the close-up. The full gown is divinely delicate yet feels mature (as opposed to some others on this list), layers of organza extending from a stiff-looking corset. The blood spatter: 20/10. 
We can’t in good consciousness claim this to be the best look on the list – but it certainly is a great one to close it off with.

Source: nymag.com

 

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