Rodarte At The Opera
Their past projects include the Fra Angelico Collection at LACMA and the solo exhibition States of Matter at MOCA, but Pasadena natives Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s latest artistic endeavor is their largest undertaking yet: designing the costumes for the L.A. Philharmonic’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, led by Gustavo Dudamel. For a short, four-performance run, the show presented itself as an opportunity for Rodarte to firmly secure itself as part of the city’s art establishment—not to mention to work with the legendary Frank Gehry.
Gehry’s set design transformed the Walt Disney Concert Hall—also of his design—into an abstract interpretation of Don Giovanni’s mind. A meeting of the minds is the right way to describe the sisters’ collaboration with Gehry, too. “We would have these meetings with Frank and would talk about things that had nothing to do with opera,” Laura Mulleavy told Style.com, citing the need to “learn each other’s language.” “But in that sense it was indirectly working on the project, because we needed to understand the way he was going to come up with the idea and eventually design a set, and then we would design the costumes to go with it.” Rodarte’s creations included two beaded gowns for each female lead, using silk, sequins, and intricate hand embroidery in a largely gray and white palette that introduced strategic color in the second act. For the men, they used denim (a first for the pair) to create a striking combination of straitjacket and armor, dressing each in a chest plate with a hand-painted marble finish—representing the chess pieces in Don Giovanni’s world.
In both lead time and inspiration, the Mulleavys’ operatic costume debut was a departure from their normal design process. “You are working with material that is so classic that everyone knows it, so you’re starting from a ground point that’s already decided for you,” Laura said of the source material for the year-long effort. But though they’re familiar with defining characters in their collections, these costume designs were part of an evolving collaboration that entailed multiple moving parts. “When you’re designing for characters, you really have to become a costume designer. You’re not the sole decider and you’re not a fashion designer in that situation.”
Don Giovanni concludes its run at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, L.A., with performances May 24 and 26.