Meet the costume designer of Maria de Rudenz Giuseppe Palella

Wexford Festival Opera's Tracy Ryan chats with Italian costume designer Giuseppe Palella (costume designer of Maria de Rudenz and last year's Guglielmo Ratcliff) about creative processes, inspiration and what makes Wexford Festival Opera so special!

This is your second time working at Wexford Festival Opera. Last year you designed the costumes for Guglielmo Ratcliff, what are you looking forward to most about being back in Wexford?

The Wexford Festival Opera is a really particular world. Last year, I took home many valuable gifts and teachings through working with other artists and creatives. Creative teams from all over the world are working together in the National Opera House in the months prior to the festival so you can learn so much from the other cultures, it is very enriching. The concept of theatrical costume is discussed not only with my own team, director and set designer, but also with the other creators of parallel productions. The festival runs three different main stage operas with 12 performances over a short space of time so you can imagine the numbers of creators working in the opera house at that time. I will never forget the magical encounter I had with the renowned costume designer Sarah Roberts who designed the costumes for Koanga last year, along with the fantastic memories with festival staff and volunteers. This year I am looking forward to learning more through discussion and work with my colleagues and of course making more memories.

Can you describe your creative process?

I never studied in a theatrical school or specific courses dedicated to theatrical costume. I studied music at the Conservatory and Sculpture and the Academy of Fine Arts in Italy. My approach with the costumes is instinctive, especially with the material I use. I do not follow any manual or preset form. This may not appeal to everyone, but in the theatre it can be helpful, with distances and lights, the light and dark is a play sculpture. When the director, Fabio Ceresa, tells me his personal idea, I develop drawings of the characters and their costumes along with their changes. I like to push the aesthetics of the costumes through colour, material and volume, with large and heavy costumes made of several layers. Sometimes this is counterproductive for me as I often have to resize my idea and compromise, but I am very stubborn and I always want to offer the audience the best show they've ever seen in the theatre! In the last production we were able to fly the soprano with a winged witch costume, weighing 14 kg! The surprise for audiences was a huge theatrical scene that was very strong. In my creative process I never think about limits, everything is possible.

I have seen some of the images of the Maria de Rudenz costume models and the costumes are magnificent! Where have you drawn your inspiration from?

Thanks in advance! It is difficult not to reveal the concept of theatrical costumes with the opera description but the project is still top secret. Similar to the last production in Wexford Guglielmo Ratcliff, I have personally executed some part of the work, developing and constructing very strong characters with the director Fabio Ceresa. The vision is born from a Tadeusz Kantor installation; in it does not develop a story and the characters will appear rather like a poignant evocation. He is an artist that I loved for many years and I could not wait to be able to use him as an inspiration. The colour palette was suggested to me by the set designer Gary McCann, a very sensible artist for the chromatic vibration. For the character of Maria de Rudenz, we have insisted on infant temperament that Maria has with other characters.

What stage are you at now in terms of producing the costumes?

The costumes are all ready and leaving for Wexford. In mid-September I begin fitting the costumes with the chorus and extras. I have used different laboratories in Italy that must comply with the frantic schedule of productions and departures. The work for Maria de Rudenz only began in April. Every year for Wexford the turn-around is always this fast, as it has to be. Over the past few months I have been working with the Wexford Festival artistic administrative team – Nora Cosgrave, Ray Bingle and Nicky Kehoe, in terms of budgeting, logistics and technical details, and they are very reliable!

How do you think Wexford compares to some of the other opera companies you’ve worked for, in Europe and the UK?

When I started this work in 2004, I had the opportunity to attend behind the scenes of the different festivals and theatres. Many productions are created around the character or singer or famous musician of the moment. This festival in Wexford points to the substance. Talented and young performers, extraordinary artists even strangers, who are offered the opportunity to express themselves. This is perhaps the most important difference: the festival is looking for new talents and believes in their potential.

Where is your next project after Wexford?

After Wexford I will prepare a new project for Korea, where we have been this year with a baroque production. The East is completely fascinated by our creative process. Their demand shows strong theatrical impact. The stage is complicated and difficult to manage but the results are great. It can often prove to be a huge challenge, but this is the most fascinating part of our job!

Maria de Rudenz runs at the National Opera House 28, 31 October and 3, 6 November. Book tickets here or by emailing or calling 1850 4 OPERA/+353 53 912 2144.