Fifty-five looks for fifty-five operas. The Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli were after something new for Couture this season, and they found it in the age-old tradition of opera. The show opened with a nod to La Traviata; Giuseppe Verdi's score was embroidered in black on the long, full skirt of a parchment-colored tulle dress. After that, Chiuri explained, "we wanted to describe the character of each [opera's] protagonist in a primordial way." By the end, they had called out all the greats: Puccini's La Bohème inspired an elegant navy cashmere cape and silk crepe sheath. Bizet's Carmen produced a pleated bronze tulle gown with silver-gray guipure lace embroideries.

Admittedly, the connections were sometimes tenuous, but that didn't detract from the austere beauty of simply draped silk marocain dresses in earthy shades of sienna, green, and mahogany. Or the divine splendor of a gold thread dress embellished with four thousand smoky gemstones that took twenty-five hundred hours to affix. The monastic and the regal are the twin signatures of Chiuri and Piccioli's work chez Valentino. Both sides of that aesthetic presumably appeal to Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch, who was perched near Giancarlo Giammetti in the front row.

The surprise was all the animals—a veritable menagerie of them, or as the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns would've had it, a carnaval des animaux. A swan, a snake, and a peacock made from feathers that wrapped around the waistline of ballerina tutus…lions and elephants on a double-face cashmere dress and a coat (not embroidered, mind you, but built into the fabric of the garments, like a puzzle)…even a gorilla and its baby were spotted tucked amid the leather floral appliqués of an organza cape.

The creativity of the set dressers at the Rome Opera House had a profound effect on the duo this season; Chiuri and Piccioli invited the opera's artisans to paint the show's runway and backdrop. But if theatricality is a virtue onstage, the more realistically the creatures were rendered here, the better off the clothes were. By contrast, a satin tiger practically pounced off the skirt of the finale dress. The workmanship was second to none, but the designers may have overestimated the big cat's charms. All in all though, this was another bravura performance.