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25 July - 30 August 2009

Salzburg's midsummer stage costumes

Since 22 August 1920, directors, musicians, actors, stage and costume designers are celebrating high theatre culture during midsummer at the Salzburger Festspiele in Austria. The festival, once founded by one of the most important theatre innovators of the 20th century, Max Reinhardt, the composer Richard Strauss, and stage designer Alfred Roller together with the director of the Vienna Hofoper Franz Schalk, offers a wide program of concerts, drama, and opera from 25 July until 30 August 2009.

The revolution of directing theatre

Max Reinhardt, born as Maximilian Goldmann 1873 near by Vienna, is famous for the interplay of stage/costume design, dramaturgy (especially language), music and dance. He has left his signature on more than 10 stages of the Salzburger Festival, especially at the productions on the Domplatz and the Felsenreitschule.

Soon, Max Reinhardt's theatre 'revolution' has reached Hollywood.

The promotional video shows behind the scene pictures from the theatre production 'A Dream Comes True' (1934) at the Hollywood Bowl with stars like James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Olivia de Havilland, etc and the Viennese Erich Korngold on the piano for the coming movie 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (1935) directed by Max Reinhardt.

fig.: Zelmira (sopranist Mojca Erdmann) in costume with punk appeal consisting of a black woollen corsage-dress with boots by DocMartens and a snake tattoo on the left shoulder at the Felsenreitschule during the Salzburger Festspiele in summer 2009. Photo: © Monika Rittershaus. "Beauty is not opposed to revolution" said Ernesto Che Guevara

This year the Salzburger Festival's motto is 'The Game of the Mighty'. More than one play focuses on women in leading roles. The modern opera 'Al gran sole carico d’amore (In the Bright Sunshine, Charged with Love)' by the Italian composer Luigi Nono has received attention by the press because of the innovative multimedia stage design with interactive sceneries between the artists and the video screen. The statement "Beauty is not opposed to revolution" by Ernesto Che Guevara provides the title for the prologue of the opera about the eternal female presence in life.

The costumes at Joseph Haydn's Armida

Another play about power with a female in the leading role is the opera 'Armida', music by the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn. This time, especially the costumes by the German designer Bettina Walter, who is leading the class for costume in the department for stage design at the Ecole supérieure des arts décoratifs in Strasbourg, gains the most visual attention of fashion specialists. She costumes sopranist Annette Dasch as Armida into a woollen felt corsage with a wide skirt made of black tulle (image below).

The cousin of the heroine, Zelmira (sopranist Mojca Erdmann on the image right) is dressed in a rebellious outfit consisting of a short black woollen corsage-dress accompanied by DocMartens boots and snake tattoo on the left shoulder.

fig.: Zelmira (sopranist Mojca Erdmann) in a costume with punk appeal at the Felsenreitschule during the Salzburger Festspiele in summer 2009. Photo (detail): © Monika Rittershaus.

In a telephone interview on 21 August 2009, Costume and Make Up Director Elke Wolter has spoken about the scenery behind the stages in Salzburg. (Following interview is transcribed in selected details, corresponding to the answers of Elke Wolter. The interview was originally held in German language.)

Elke Wolter, who has worked from 2002 to 2007 at the music and arts Festival Ruhrtriennale, directs the workshops for costume (including archives, laundry, sewing department, ladies' & men's tailors, make up, wardrobe, shoemakers etc.) at the Salzburger Festspiele since 2007. What makes her job really thrilling is that she is responsible for the artists' (chorus, statists, soloists) outfits for 189 performances at 13 venues (figures from 2008) - through a duration of lesser than 40 days!

Question: What are you doing in fall/winter? Are the workshops closed during this time?

Elke Wolter, Costume and Make Up Director, Salzburger Festspiele: We make holidays in September to start in October again. Around 30 people are permanently working through the year. We are starting in August with the first costume rehearsals for the next year and continue in October, November at first for the chorus, then for the statists. Shortly before the new productions go on stage, we are finalizing the costumes for the soloists.

Question: Do costume designers deliver the sketches mostly in time?

Elke Wolter: The sooner the better!

Question: How deep involved are costume designers into the production of the costumes?

Elke Wolter: After the director and stage designer have finished the concept, the costume designer begins to create ideas for the outfits together with the workshops. To fix the 'travel destination' is the most important step of this collaboration.

Question: Costumes are fundamentally different from pieces of the Haute Couture or Ready-to-Wear. Costumes don't have to be perfectly manufactured such as Ready-to-Wear or exclusively handcrafted like Haute Couture, because of the distance between recipients and the stage; otherwise - because of this distance - stage costumes have to impress much more.

Elke Wolter: New media with its TV or movie cameras and new technologies for screens have changed the traditional costume design. Today, the costumes have almost Haute Couture qualities to withstand critical views even on close ups in digital moving pictures for high definition screens. The costumes for the productions at the Salzburger Festspiele are mostly digitalized through cameras. That's the reason why they are manufactured with much love for details.

Question: Is there anything special, the designers have to take care of on Salzburg's stages such as distance/closeness or lighting?

Elke Wolter: At the Salzburger Festspiele are professional costume designers who have worked on the important stages worlwide. I don't have to support them with this knowledge.

Question: Salzburg has two extraordinary stages: one is the Domplatz - an exterior stage with daylight, and the other one is the Felsenreitschule.

Elke Wolter: The Domplatz such as the Felsenreitschule are challenging places; the Domplatz is for the artists and the costume designer an extraordinary 'stage' because the costumes have to be very durable for the authentic 'street scenery' and have to look good in different light situations; a black fabric looks in artificial light absolutely different than under natural lighting. The Felsenreitschule has the atmosphere of a cave; the background is always the same: stone. On this stage the scenic and costume designers are challenged indeed."

ig.: Annette Dasch as Armida in a costume designed by Bettina Walter at the 'Felsenreitschule' which means as much as 'horse riding school in the rocks' from the 17th century (used for opera productions since 1948) during the Salzburger Festspiele in summer 2009. Photo (detail): © Monika Rittershaus. Question: How much are you influenced by 'fashion'?

Elke Wolter: I read BtoB magazines like the Textilwirtschaft to find out who can provide fabrics or other materials we need at the workshops. As I am not designing the costumes, my fashion flavor is not reflected on the stages.

Question: Have you experienced that the costume designers at the Salzburger Festspiele are influenced by fashion?

Elke Wolter: Yes, some of them are strongly inspired by fashion. They are creating costumes according to current trends and interpret the language of contemporary fashion for the theatre stage. Others acts like (haute) couturiers and create pieces out of their own imagination, following an own style, and not the common Zeitgeist propagated in fashion magazines.

Question: How is Bettina Walter developing her costumes?

Elke Wolter: Bettina Walter creates from her own ideas; she is very experimental.

Question: What is experimental on Armida's black gown for Armida (starring Annette Dasch)?

Elke Wolter: You would say that this is a black dress; everybody would say so. But this dress is not totally black. Bettina Walter has layered different colored tulle fabrics for the skirt. Grey, anthrazite, brown, and dark blue tulle layers enrich the costume with a deepness (through the optical reflections of the different colors) that intensifies the artist's motions on stage with the effect that the theatre audience seems to view a body moving with magical ease.

fig.: Annette Dasch as Armida in a costume designed by Bettina Walter at the 'Felsenreitschule' which means as much as 'horse riding school in the rocks' from the 17th century (used for opera productions since 1948) during the Salzburger Festspiele in summer 2009. Photo (detail): © Monika Rittershaus.
Armida shall seduce the enemy Rinaldo to prevent Damascus from the Christian army; but both are falling in real love. As it is a 'dramma eroico', the lovers are loosing each other by the end. More about the story of Armida, the costume designer, the artists etc on

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