La Callisto - costume design and make
I used the combined art styles of the 17th century as a starting point for my designs. With the opera being first performed in 1651 and a mix of Classicism and Baroque fitting so well with my idea of the look I wanted for my design. I also felt that the Greek and Roman motifs often recognised in Classicism artwork linked back nicely to the literary source of the piece.
The Goddess of Fate (often called Destiny in some versions of the score) is one of the three prologue goddesses. It is her who insists on Calisto becoming immortalised.
Researching the source of a character is always a vital step in my design process, made even more important for this project due to the prevalence of the source material. I chose to focus on the classic three goddesses of fate in Greek mythology as my primary inspiration.
The Moirai are three goddesses who determined human destinies, and in particular the span of a person’s life and their allotment of misery and suffering. Homer speaks of Fate (Moira) in the singular as an impersonal power with power and responsibilities equal to and occasionally interchangeable with the Olympian Gods. The names of the three fates are Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the allotter) and Atropos (the inflexible). The most common depiction of these triple goddesses shows Clotho spinning the strands of fate, Lochesis measuring each string and Atropos cutting the stings to mark the end of a life.
The primary concept I decided to run with was threads and strings; with the strings and tapestry of fate being such a stable and iconic image. The mood board above combines the mythological source of my concept along with some incredibly modern design inspirations - as well as some more abstract images to represent facets of the design concept.
This concept developed to having the strings pouring from her. She doesn't just manipulate the threads of destiny, she makes and utterly commands them.
I decided to use a grey base for all three of the Prologue goddesses to give them some visual consistency while not overwhelming their individual designs. Grey is the colour of compromise; the point of transition between two non-colours it is unemotional and detached.
I decided I wanted the bodice to be relatively simple, with the skirt being the focal point of the design. In a link back to my 17th Century inspiration at the start of the project, I decided that the bodice should be a soft grey 17th Century corset / stays.
One concern with this design was that I knew I would have to be sure that the strings pouring from the skirt wouldn't be read as her being tangled or caught in them at all.
Goddess of Eternity
There is no deity of eternity in Greek or Roman Mythology, in fact the only goddess of Eternity I could find was the Egyptian goddess Hauhet; usually depicted with snake iconography. This discovery cemented the idea I had already been toying with for the primary motif of this character to be snakes; with the symbol of Oroborus (the snake eating its own tail) being such a famous symbol of eternity and it being stated in the libretto that she hold a serpent in her hand. Unsure of how to actualise this idea, I found some modern fashion pieces that I could use as a basis. I did begin to worry that the design would read more as ropes than snakes, so the heads of the snakes would need to be a very prominent design feature. In link with the snake noted in the libretto, I thought I would add the stipulation that during a performance, Eternity would pluck snakes (costume props) from her surroundings, to create a constantly shifting and 'looped' movement.
Goddess of Nature
There are a few goddesses within the Greek pantheon that could be considered to rule over Nature, I decided to focus on Gaia for this design concept. The name Gaia is derived from the greek word 'ga' and (or 'ge') which means land. She is considered to be the mother of the furies and following the mythology she is technically Jove's grandmother. She was born of the void and birthed Uranus (the sky) and Pontus (the sea).
My primary concern with this character was I didn't want her to read as too 'pretty' or 'pure'; nature is not all pretty and delicate. My solution for this was to include motifs of decay into the imagery of her design. Sticking with the classic, and possibly slightly predictable, plant and flower motifs I wanted to have the trusting vines wrapping around her bodice trailing down into the skirt with vibrant flower looking to be blooming off of them before trailing into decaying and rotting plant matter - much like the forest floor, with roots, delicate blooms making up an upper layer but the seemingly ugly decay underneath adding substance and feeding the beauty above.
I became set on including things in my designs that the performers could do with their hands - these are not idle beings simply spectating, they are powerful forces of existence, with a hand in everything happening throughout the Opera. For Nature, I decided this could be seemingly making flowers and arranging them around herself. Sometimes creating vibrant blooms, sometimes plucking them up and crumpling them before adding them to the layers at her feet.
Being the title character, Calisto was an incredibly important design, with her own host of logistical issues. Her first costume being one of the Nymphs of Diana was an interesting design. The majority of my initial research pointed towards images of these delicate virginal women in flowing white dresses reminiscent of Classical Greek artworks. However the was not the look I wanted to go for with these characters. I wanted to lean into the idea that these are fierce hunters. They live their lives among the trees and care little of how the outside world perceives them. All of the materials for their cloths would have to be attainable and practical for their lives.
One of the key challenges with this character was how to achieve the onstage transformations from nymph to bear, then from bear to constellation. My solution for this was to have the bear costume be a sort of headdress attached to a long and visually heavy cloak. The bear head constructed from a light wood and withy base and padded and covered as lightly as possible (to ensure that the performer could still sing and move in the costume) would be enough for the costume to read clearly enough while the cloak would both work to cover the costume underneath while adding a constrictive look, in line with the content of the piece.
For the constellation costume, I wanted to make sure that the final design was incredibly beautiful but clearly displayed the idea that this was just a sort of gilded cage. Throughout the Opera everything that happens to Calisto is either directly against or regardless of her will and being lifted to the heavens to become immortal (while in some interpretations is an act of mercy) is just the final thing she didn't get to chose and will finally and irreversibly remove her from the life she had chosen to live as a nymph.
The final deign concept included how the costume change would take place on stage:
The nature of the bear costume would enable her to have changed from the nymph costume so that when the transformation scene begins the cloak can be thrown off to reveal a simple slip. I decided to utilise a cage crinoline here, as the image of a cage being brought down over her head and tied to her would work perfectly with my interpretation of the piece. the song, layered skirt would then be added on top, with stars and constellations embroidered and beaded onto various layers of the tule or voil to add dimension to the skirts. The bodice would be a corseted piece, with decorative channels to further the cage imagery and more tule or voil and embroidery to balance with the skirt.