The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) is my Favorite Mozart Opera, and one of my favorite works of art in general. I listen to various music selections from it probably around once a week (ipod on Random always seems to find something from it.) Everything about it is very real to me, the story, the characters, the music, and so when I decided to illustrate it, I wanted everything to look real, rather than fantastical — which is where most of my illustration heads.
This is the opera that made it necessary for me to learn how to sew. (This is also the opera that helped me resolve childhood issues with my parents, so that’s a plus!)
I have done two photo shoots based on The Marriage of Figaro, and there are six photos in this series.
I chose a basic color scheme to illustrate The Marriage of Figaro: Red, Yellow, Brown. I almost always include Black and White as well. You will find this scheme in both the sets and the costumes. There is also a color that is only present in the Count, which is Plum, and the reason for this is to separate him from the rest of the characters. I also chose not to powder the wigs and hair.
Some of the costumes I don’t have pictures of, but I will share the ones that I do.
Il Conte D’Almaviva – The Count
Generally, the Count is performed by an older man, raging around the stage grumpily. However, this is completely against everything the opera tells us about his character. As anyone who is paying attention knows, the Count is around 18 when he woos Rosina (The Countess) in the original, The Barber of Seville, which is the story that comes before The Marriage of Figaro. Therefore, even if a decade passes between the two plays, at most, The Count is 28 years old. This can also be deduced if you read the third play in the Trilogy, A Mother’s Guilt, where he is around 50 years old with two teenage children. As for the raging, grumpy Count we so often see, as anyone with any sense knows, that is no way to seduce numerous women. We all know that women love Bastards, but you don’t win the woman over by running up and punching her in the face. No, that comes after.
My ultimate goal was to make the Count kind of sexy. I started making the costume before finding a model. The Count’s outfit was black and plum. The purple ties in to the jewelry that the Countess wears, which you will see later. I found the perfect model for the Count, named Orion, and he nearly didn’t fit into this vest which I made, but that’s okay, because his broad chest kept the vest open and the embroidery showing.
The models. Laura as the Countess with Orion as the Count.
The plum silk vest was hand embroidered. I used those little ribbon flowers that you can get at craft stores because I HATE making ribbon flowers. Whenever I make ribbon flowers, my jaw tenses up, and my arms get tingly, and it’s all very awkward. There were a few embroidery techniques I used, like couching on the vines, where a cord is laid down and thread is sewn over the top. I also used beading and sequins. I made sequins flowers on the buttons.
The Count's Embroidered Plum Silk Vest
Extreme Close-up of the Embroidery on the Count's Plum Silk Vest.
My friend Roman is modeling this outfit, and he likes to point out that the pockets never actually work on anything that I make. It’s true.
The white shirt you see in the picture below is a Stafford Shirt from JC Penny. I removed the sleeves and replaced them with sleeves from Simplicity Pattern #3758. These sleeves each have more fabric than the body of the shirt, which makes them especially poofy. I used the Stafford shirt because I LOVE their collars, and I know I can’t make a collar that good. The collar is very handsome, stiff, and the entire shirt is very sturdy (Take it from someone who took one apart), and they last for years.
Full shot of Cout D'Almaviva's Plum Silk Vest
The Count also had a black brocade coat with covered buttons, tassles and a high Collar, which I made out of a mash-up of various Simplicity Patterns. It has curved sleeves.
The Count's Black Coat has tassles!
Rosina, La Contessa D’Almaviva – The Countess
The Countess is sad. Basically just all the time. So I chose a mellow yellow for her dress.
I got the idea for her dress from the film The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightley.
Kiera Knightley in the Duchess costume designed by Michael O'Connor which inspired my Countess dress.
The dress Kiera Knightley wears in The Duchess is a pale yellow Saque Back, Robe a la Francaise, which is a very sophisticated, elegant style (and a bit pimpin’). I chose to put the Countess in the Robe a la Francaise simply because there isn’t one in my Mozart Project, and considering that it was a big staple of fashion in his life time, I wanted to work it in in an appropriate place, and there is no more appropriate place than on the Countess. Especially when I found a sophisticated and elegant model for the part.
The Countess D'almaviva Robe a la Francaise in pale yellow. I used Simplicity Pattern 3637 with slight alterations.
This dress isn’t as detailed as it could have been, but that’s only because this was my first major 18th Century dress. I understand the techniques much better now. However, my taste always runs more simply and clean than anything in the Rococo ever tended to be. For the stomacher I used fake pears, two types of ribbon and two earrings for the jewels. The gathered yellow ribbon on the front is entirely edged with tiny pearls, which is hard to see in any of my pictures.
The Front of my Robe a la Francaise for the Countess.
You will, perhaps, notice the fuzzy or hairy line on the stomacher. This is actually the selvage of that particular brown brocade fabric. This is one of the Historical techniques I DID know when I made the dress.
Here is the detail on the stomacher for the robe a la Francaise of the Countess. The jewles are two separate earrings sewn to ribbon bows. Pearls are embroidered on practically all the edges of everything.
I used Simplicity Pattern #3637 for the gown, with only slight alterations, because the gown pattern is very accurate historically.
The back of the Robe a la Francaise. This back, which is like a huge curtain, is what "Robe a la Francaise" denotes, and is also called a Sack Back or a Saque Back.
All of the Countess’s jewelry is pearl and gold based, and I found an awesome set at Target for her to wear. I used an earring with a purple stone in the Choker. This ties back to the color that the Count wears. Her jewelry shows that she longs for her husband, if you want to make it into a metaphor.
The Simplicity pattern includes a pattern for a choker, however, it does not look like anything in my historical costuming books, so I only used the length of the ribbon from the pattern and built the choker based off of photographs of historical garments. You will see I used ruched fabric, pearl buttons and an earring.
The choker that the Countess wears ties back to the plum silk vest of the Count.
The Countess in Disguise!
During the course of The Marriage of Figaro, The Countess disguises herself as her maid, Susanna. Susanna is the woman Figaro is marrying. Therefore, when the Countess is disguised as the Susanna, she should be wearing Susanna’s wedding dress. One of the little mistakes that a lot of productions make is that they put Susanna in a White Wedding Dress, however, white was not the most popular wedding dress color until the mid/late 1800s. So, I chose just to make the dress fun and simple, to look like a servant’s wedding dress.
Susanna's Wedding Dress that the Countess wears when disguised.
The dress is in a Polonaise style, which means that the skirt is, or looks, tucked up, apart from the underskirt. It is made out of duck canvas, denim interlining, steel boning and linen lining. For anyone who knows fabrics, this may seem like over-kill. This garment is very heavy and VERY sturdy.
The bodice is adorned with numerous wire-ribbon flowers, which hold their shape and can be re-worked. Again, I bought these ribbon flowers pre-made. I got them at Montana Camp Antiques and gifts in my home-town, which is a lovely antique store with lots of very friendly sales-people who are always interested and supportive of my project.
Here's a close up of the ribbon flowers sewn to the bodice of the Countess disguise.
Susanna wears mostly browns when dressed in her work-clothes. Because the Countess is disguised, I decided to kind of mix the colors up — the yellow of the Countess comes into the dress, and brings the pink/plum to tie back to the Count, so that there are little visual cues connecting all the characters. When the actual photo is edited, I will match the flowers more accurately to the Count’s vest.
Here is the back view of the Polonaise style dress.
Barbarina, what have you got there?
What has Barbarina got? Well, she’s got my mortal enemy, the brown corset wrapped around her bosom.
The gardener’s daughter, Barbarina, who is around 13 years old, goes around kissing boys, losing pins and hiding in garden sheds on the left. I made her a brown corset with detachable sleeves which laces up both the front and the back. It was based off of an actual historical corset that I saw in the book “Fashion” by the Kyoto Fashion Institute.
The Corset on the left from the Kyoto Fashion Institute was the inspiration for Barbarina's Corset.
And I did pretty well adapting a pattern to look like it, until I came to the tabs on the bottom of the corset. Then, all hell broke loose. Some people have heard me mention that I once got into a fight with a corset. Well, this, ladies and gentlemen, is the corset that I had the smack-down with. Things went wrong left and right, for hours and days when dealing with those tabs, which left the bottom strangely uneven, and left two tabs and an inch of corset missing.
Barbarina's brown brocade Corset.
We are enemies, and I will be glad when this thing sells on Etsy.
The back of Barbarina's Brown Brocade Corset.
Susanna, Disguised as the Countess!
Meanwhile, Susanna has disguised herself as the Countess. Originally, the Susanna model was going to wear the Robe a la Francaise that the Countess wore (seen a few costumes above). However, the model increased in bust size quite dramatically, and so I had to make a new light yellow dress for her to wear.
Susanna, of course, is disguised in the Countess’s color, light yellow, and the only real costuming give-away that this isn’t the Countess is that the dress seems a little costume-y, as if something’s a little off. This was done partially on purpose, however, the dress was looking so Costume-y that it actually caused me a bit of distress. I spent hours working on making the outfit look more historical.
The dress Susanna wears to disguise herself as the Countess.
There are quite a few things going on in this dress. First, the brocade has gem stones glued in the center of every flower in the design on the front of the bodice. The cuff of the sleeve is gathered. There are two different ivory trims used around the bodice. The bows are made as removable pins, and each feature an altered earring in the center. The bottom bow even has the partner earring to the dangling pearls used on the Countess’s robe a la Francaise.
Here's a detail shot of some of the elements used in the dress, including the various trims, gathering, ribbons and jewelry.
The skirt is pleated all along the front, and gathered in the back.
The dress has no Historical closure, but laces up the back like a corset. This is where the garment starts to get really costume-y to me. I don’t know if other people really notice it, though.
The back of the Susanna disguised as Countess dress.
The bows that pin onto the dress feature earrings that I bought at Macy’s on clearance. I altered them to be sewn onto the dress.
A detail of the bottom bow pinned onto the dress.
Dr. Bartolo, Eh?
The last costume I have to show you is the eeeevil Dr. Bartolo’s vest. Dr. Bartolo is the main antagonist of The Barber of Seville, and one of the baddies of the Marriage of Figaro.
My mother made this vest, and I did the details. A dark and villainy color was chosen for the brocade.
Dr. Bartolo's brocade vest.
The buttons were very special, and I didn’t know it at the time. They were cover-buttons, the type you cover yourself, but with a built in brass border. I really wish I knew how rare they were when I used them. I just got them out of my grandma’s stash!
My friend Jake models Dr. Bartolo's vest for my Etsy store.