I've got this 24 hour flight thing down to a pat now. I could well have spent my first day in Sydney mooching around, dropping in and out of nap and ordering in room service. Instead, I landed in yesterday morning, chowed on down to Chinatown (obsessed with any restaurant in Sydney that has plastic grapes hanging down from the ceiling) and then mosied on to the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour to see Carmen, directed by Gale Edwards for Opera Australia.
Overlooking Sydney Opera House, and nestled right by the Royal Botanical Gardens, this magnificent outdoor stage is impressive to say the least, conceived to open up the art of opera in terms of physical space and projection as well as to a wider audience. Last year, the Handa Opera stage played host to La Traviata and this year, it's Georges Bizet's Carmen, an opera, which I've only seen once when I was about twelve with a not so great vantage point on a heavily discounted ticket. Therefore to see Bizet's score and a stellar cast and production come together underneath a clear night sky, overlooking what IS categorically my favourite picture postcard views in the world (yes, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge floors me EVERYtime), was definitely spectacular.
We took a little behind the scenes stage tour beforehand which showed the nitty gritty dangers of staging an opera on the water. Cramped, hazerdous and bunker-like just about sums up the backstage areas underneath where the audience sit (dubbed the "underworld") and only makes you appreciate the high production values of the show. We also met up with acclaimed costume designer Julie Lynch, who has worked extensively with Opera Australia and designed the costumes for this feistily updated version of Carmen. Two things dictated the look and feel of the costumes, which are vastly different from those seen in most other predecessing adaptations of Carmen – one, is the period as this version of Carmen takes us to 1950s Franco era of Seville in Spain and two, is the sheer scale of the opera where the vast distance between the audience and the stage means the performers are dwarfed.
Fellini's La Dolce Vita and icons like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigada informed the vibe for the costumes and gone are the '"corsets and coins" of previous Carmen incarnations, which to Edwards felt dated. The 1950s era therefore shed a Hollywood-tinged sheen and a vivacious spirit to the costumes, which to me also evoked a whole host of fashion references – Yves Saint Laurent's decadent gypsy and Russian looks from that glory period of the seventies, the energetically bohemian looks of Italian-born American ethnic designer Giorgio Di Sant'Angelo, Ossie Clark and Bill Gibb's romantic British sensibility on tiered exotica, Emanuel Ungaro's passion for the vibrant polka and really, countless instances where the imagery of the Spanish matador and flamenco dancing have influenced fashion. There were so many fashion moments to be picked out from Lynch's cleverly lurid, ornate and deliberately overt costumes, which translated on stage.
The scale of the stage presented itself as a challenge for Lynch to costumes that would stand up against a distracting backdrop of city lights and water traffic. "Sixty people on stage, all dressed in a different colour, would look hideous, which is why you have to think in terms of blocks of colour," says Lynch. "When the stage is large and the audience far away, a single colour becomes one big image, while lots of different colours become ants on stage. So what we have is a yellow sweep of people, a green sweep, a red sweep." Her choice of high-shine reflective fabrics, strategically placed crystal embroidery and bold patterns (namely the polka dot on to the ensemble chorus) are all designed to reflect light and catch the eye at the right moments so that even if you're not right up front (which incidentally, I wasn't), the visual identity of each character was clearly augmented.
It was certainly the perfect visual jumpstart to my what is now my fourth time (y'all sick of me yet?) to Sydney for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia, which begins tomorrow. Jet lag? What jet lag?
Details of Carmen costumes by Julie Lynch from her Instagram