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Fashion Week at WNO

18 February 2019

Recognised as one of the 'Big 4', London Fashion Week sits alongside New York, Milan and Paris as one of the most important dates in the Fashion industry’s diary.

Here at WNO we adore fashion and, accompanied by some of Donizetti’s most spine tingling melodies, we will be hosting our very own fashion parade this spring, for a total of 9 weeks at various venues in Cardiff, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Bristol, Llandudno and Southampton. Designed by Madeleine Boyd, the costumes in our critically acclaimed production of Roberto Devereux were inspired by one of Britain's fashion royalty, Dame Vivienne Westwood, who was largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream.

At the beginning of the opera, Elisabetta (Queen Elizabeth I’s name in the opera) appears in a striking red dress with taffetta. Her look is completed with a black 8-pack leather corset and the slight appearance of a black hair dress, which is revealed later in the opera as the plot unfolds. If you’ve walked past Westwood’s flagship store in London recently (pictured below), you’d agree that there is no mistaking her influence on the design of our costumes, from the richness of the material to the shape of the dress, and not forgetting the decorative, white embroidery around the chest/neck area.  

This initial outfit was designed to create the same image that was engineered for Queen Elizabeth I during her reign. Queen Elizabeth I was very conscious of her appearance. She knew that her actions and image formed her identity, which in turn became a symbol for England. Her image was therefore engineered to convey wealth, authority and power. Her ladies in waiting wore her old dresses; other women strove to imitate the style of the Queen and her ladies. New fashions filtered gradually down from court to society in general, where they often assumed a simpler and more practical aspect than the gowns worn by the Queen and her companions. It was rather similar to the process by which a gown modelled on a runway eventually shows up a few months later, more practically designed and less outrageously priced, on the high street. Both male and female fashion became far busier and more elaborate as Elizabeth's reign continued. Ruffs became higher and larger and skirts and sleeves became wider and wider. Bodices became more busily decorated, covered completely in braid, trim, jewels, metal and silk embroidery. Elizabeth had a more powerful influence over her country's changing styles than almost any other monarch before or since.

However, Elisabetta's second outfit in the opera reflects a completely different aspect  of her personality, staying true to Elizabethan fashion of 16th Century England. Once Queen Elizabeth I's had worn a gown or an item of clothing once, it was often altered to accommodate changing fashions and tastes. Panels were very often added and removed from skirts, and that's exactly what we see in our production. After experiencing heart break and betrayal from Roberto Devereux, the man she loves, Elisabetta returns to the stage ready for revenge. She enters the stage in a fierce, dark leather corset, long black gloves and the black hair dress that was beneath the vibrant red dress is revealed, making her emotional and psychological distress visible for all to see.

The dramatic intensity and the striking design of this production, adds drama and spectacle to what is already an intense denouement. Joyce El-Khoury takes on the extremely difficult role of Elisabetta.  Roberto Devereux also stars Barry Banks as the title character; Roland Wood and Biagio Pizzuti share the role of Nottingham; Justina Gringyte as Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham and the Queen’s secret rival. WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi conducts in Cardiff and Birmingham and James Southall conducts in Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Bristol, Llandudno and Southampton.