Interview with Emma Ryott, costume designer for MESSA DA REQUIEM of Giuseppe Verdi at Opera Zurich, by Evi Hock, creator of ballettloversblog.com
Emma Ryott is an award winning costume designer for Opera, Ballet and Theatre. She has successfully designed costumes for opera houses all over the world. She has collaborated with choreographer and ballet director Christian Spuck for Anna Karenina, Romeo und Julia, Woyzeck, Leonce and Lena, der Sandmann, das Fräulein von S., Lulu and Poppea/ Poppea.
Her work around the world includes productions for the English National Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre London, the Royal Ballet of Flandern, the Theater an der Wien, the Semperoper Dresden, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the New York Metropolitain Opera and Broadway.
Her work is considered “elegant, dramatic and among the most beautiful dance costumes in the dance scene.”
Emma Ryott is responsible for the entire creative work of costuming every production, which is always a collaboration between her work as costume designer, the director, the set and lighting designers, to ensure the success of the production.
Now we can‘t wait to hear about the large-scale collaborative ballet and opera production MESSA DA REQUIEM. Christian Spuck brings a theatrically choreographic interpretation of Verdi‘s Requiem to the stage.
Thank you Emma, for telling us about your work for MESSA DA REQUIEM at Opera Zurich.
What ideas first came to mind when you were asked to do the costume design for MESSA DA REQUIEM?
I was very excited about bringing Opera and Ballet together. The challenge for me was how to connect the music, the dancers, the singers and the choir to this wonderful music which is so strong.
Christian Spuck wanted to show everyone’s individual feelings. So the task was to create a harmonious look while retaining everyone’s individuality on stage, thereby helping to emphasise the emotion of the music.
For the choir we made individual dresses for the ladies and suits for the men to bring out their personalities. To emphasise the dancer’s individuality I designed different sets of costumes for the different themes and sections of the requiem to reflect the strength and power of the music.
What is the process for designing the costumes for a ballet like MESSA DA REQUIEM?
For the ballet company, I designed one suit and prototyped 10 types of T-shirt for the boys and five different styles of dresses and tops for the girls to try out. Once these designs were finalised, a set of costumes was produced for each dancer. These were made in house by Zurich Opera’s fantastic in-house costume department, whose craftsmanship and attention to detail is second to none.
We created 110 individual costumes for the choir, using different fabrics and textures. It was important to give the choir texture and life. Otherwise, if you choose just one fabric for everyone it creates a very flat overall picture. For the singers, I designed three different looks for the ladies and a simple look for the men for their roles, allowing them to blend with the choir and dancers and stand out individually as necessary.
The over-riding question for me in the design process was “Will it work with the movement Christian Spuck is creating”, so we had to find out what works. It has been a long process of experimentation, trial and modification.
Tell us about the various costume styles, hair style and make-up for the dancers, singers and choir? How do they link?
The first half is quite dark and then there are accents of colours coming in the second half to show there is hope and solace.
Although the singers and dancers are individually dressed, I wanted all the make-up and hair styles to have a unified look. So I made the faces all very pale which reflects the grief expressed in the music.
What are the difficulties of fitting ballet costumes for movement?
The key task for the first fitting is to make sure that the dancers can move freely. We started with a “playbox” of various costumes. The challenge for me was to fit each piece to the relevant section of the work. So, for example, we decided to use long transparent dresses for the lament of Lacrimosa. The dresses have a long fluid line which suits the movement Christian Spuck had choregraphed for that particular part. When I first designed the dresses I wasn’t entirely sure which piece of the music they would work with best – it was a case of working fluidly with the music and the choreographer. It was important to be adaptable.
How long did the whole process of costume designing – planning, discussing, tailoring, fitting – take? Where were the biggest challenges you faced on this production?
I have been collaborating with Christian during the last year, discussing and developing the designs. This involves regular trips to Zurich, choosing fabrics and developing prototypes. Working with the choreographer, Christian Spuck is an ongoing creative process, adapting and refining ideas until we reach the perfect solution.
The process of costume designing can be described as followed:
1. Agree the design with Christian Spuck, the choreographer
2. Choose the fabrics
3. Discuss the design with the team of Opera Zurich
4. Make the dresses and fit them in house, the 110 choir costumes were made outside
5. Test the costumes on stage and see how they fit with the movement
6. Adapt and refine! Even yesterday we were still making small changes!
MESSA DA REQUIEM is a very special production – the design process lasted for over a year. But over that time, it became clearer and clearer how the costumes should look. The biggest challenge was “not to think in stories”. My role as a costume designer was to create costumes which enhanced the emotions of the MESSA DA REQUIEM.