Mozart’s opera “Il Re Pastore” (The Shepherd King) is a piece of historical fiction telling the story of how Alexander the Great conquered the tyrant ruler of Sidon, Stratone, only to discover the rightful heir to the throne, Aminta, had been living incognito as a peasant for many years (in an attempt to escape the tyrant’s wrath); and how Alexander re-instates the poor man to the throne.
The opera has no antagonist, which makes it dramatically relaxed (A bit like Winnie the Pooh), where most of the problems arise due to assumptions, miscommunication, longings and fears. It is not boring, however, due to the author’s use of emotional truth as the basis to the events (as per usual for Metastasio), rather than relying entirely on the music or theatricality.
When Alexander the Great defeats the tyrant Stratone, the tyrant’s daughter, Tamiri, is left to flee into the forest for safety as a “Fugitive Princess”. There, she sings songs with nature metaphors, falls in love with one Alexander’s men, is nearly forced to marry the Shepherd King, and in the end is pardoned for her crime of being a tyrant’s daughter.
Tamiri is quite a resilient Fugitive Princess, a post which she occupies with all of the nobility that an 18th Century Princess could muster, even though she’s supposed to be an ancient princess, disguised as a shepherdess, and hiding amongst the woods in quite a dangerous situation. She actually strikes me as sticking out like a sore thumb with how little effort she gives to the “Fugitive” part (changing her clothes), and how much she emphasizes the “Princess” part (as any member of the play’s contemporary Noble audience would have expected.)
It is this line, said by a soldier to the Fugitive Princess, that directed my entire design of Tamiri for my photography:
“You here? You, in this state of undress?”
So now we have a Fugitive Princess hiding in the woods, unconvincingly, in a state of undress. Now isn’t that enough to inspire any costume designer! I took the idea and ran with it.
In accordance with mixing the 1700s with the ancient world, I decided upon dressing Tamiri in fancy Rococo underwear and wig, but keeping her true-love in the classic Greek attire. I also wanted to reflect the personality that I interpreted of Tamiri when I read about her going Fugitive. Particularly, I liked the idea of a Princess thinking the best way to disguise herself while hiding in the woods would be to wear clothing that had a nature motif, with a wig decked out in different twigs and gourds. “Now no one will be able to recognize me! Ha! Ha!”
Which, of course, is kind of silly, but it’s also the kind of thinking that went into the costume design of opera in the 1700s. They seemed less interested in credibility than they did in fashion.
My main influence was the floral applique and lace dress created by Eiko Ishioka in Tarsem Singh’s film, “The Fall.”
When I examined Nurse Evelyn’s dress in “The Fall”, I thought it was very beautiful, and I like how the texture turned to 3-D around the collar. Luckily, I accidentally stumbled upon a book at the fabric store that taught me how to create such an effect. The book was called “Embellish with Anything” by Gladys Love.
The book “Embellish With Anything” is full of great information for fabric artists. This fully illustrated “how-to” book shows how to utilize and alter fabrics to create artwork. The techniques are more advanced than general step-by-step guides, and require a little bit more equipment and patience to complete. However, the techniques can be used to create amazing and striking works of art.
One of her techniques is to create a Ginkgo Biloba inspired wall-hanging by making your own appliques, utilizing asymmetrical cutting and sewing techniques, and beading.
Ms. Love’s focus seems to be to bring out the reader’s creativity with ideas rather than just giving them a project to make, and the images in the book show a range of results created using her initial technique. Projects include making your own beads out of fabrics, making your own custom appliques, beading and machine embroidery, and a really ingenious use of the zig-zag stitch on a sewing machine to make a tree out of thread (on the cover).
Gladys Love also curates her own blog called Fibresoul where she shares her creative adventures.
I utilized her technique to embellish Tamiri’s nature inspired Bridal Corset.
The corset is fully boned with plastic boning, and is based off of the innards of Simplicity Pattern #3635.
I wanted everything about the outfit to be ivory and white, so I used two colors of dupioni silk, white bridal satin, and ivory ribbon (ruched around the top edge) for the bodice section, and I used a large piece of folded crepe silk for the skirt. The corset interfacing and boning channels are covered with strips of ivory and white dupioni silk using a technique from the book which shows you how to cut the fabric in waves and sew it together flat, which gives it a bit of a “tree bark” look.
This “bark” fabric is then cut according the the shape of the corset.
The appliques are drawn on to a piece of silk or satin and sewn to the facing fabric, then cut out and turned. Then, this turned “leaf” is topstiched with different types of embroidery thread (again I used Ivory and white) to make the “veins” of the leaves.
The appliques are hand stitched to “bark” part of the fabric before it is attached to the boned interlining or the lining. The appliques are then dotted with seed beads which resemble dew. I also used strings of freshwater pearls weaving in and out of the leaves because they look quite similar to the flower of the Ginko tree. Finally I used ivory colored seashells as “twigs” for the “leaves” to wrap around.
While it may seem surprising to some readers, this “applique” process only took me the length of the films “Se7en” and “Zodiak: Director’s Cut” on DVD as well as a few un-noticed moments between films (around 5 hours). This is because I laid out the appliques, then drew a diagram which indicated where each leaf in which fabric and what color went where. Only the seed beads were attached randomly.
The corset was then assembled, and the ruched bias strip around the neckline was attached. The last step was to attach the crepe silk skirt which is double-layered in the front, and single layered in the back, and hand pleated (by eye rather than by markings) evenly around the hips.
If you would like to see the final image of Tamiri from this shoot, I have posted a video which features Tamiri’s Act 1 Aria “Di Tante Sue Procelle”, as well as the photograph I created in order to illustrate the scene! Though, I must admit the scene I illustrated is actually a recitative, not the aria that follows. A video that featured a recitative with my image, however, would be like listening to a random track on a foreign language audio-book.
- Visit the blog of Gladys Love, author of “Embellish With Anything”
- Visit my Etsy Shop to view or purchase Tamiri’s Ginko Inspired Silk Bridal Corset and support my project!
- Watch the film mentioned in the post, The Fall to get costume ideas for yourself!