Peter Restall, Opera North's Technical Manager talks through the different elements of Leslie Travers' set and costume designs for Giulio Cesare.
"The main set represents Egypt; it is a pyramid box that is annexed by tall Roman concrete walls. The Romans invented concrete and their civilisation was very structured, in contrast to the decadence and corruption of the Egyptians, inhabiting this gold inlaid pyramid. The pyramid was based on a jewel box seen at the British Museum, and interpreted here as one that is breaking down and rotting, reflecting elements of their society. The movement and rotation of the set by ‘slaves’ also allows for the opera to flow fluidly from one scene to the next: it opens up, reveals a warren of passageways and beautiful gold, mirrored walls and floors.
"The breast plates of the Romans are meant to look like modern flak jackets. Cesare's mantle and cloak is a great military coat and as the opera sees a woman, Pamela Helen Stephen, in the title role, it was important to retain a masculine look. The coats of Cesare and his right hand man, Pompeo, are battered and broken down, the idea that they have been at war for months...years... The Egyptians, on the other hand, have a very different look; Cleopatra and Ptolemy are dressed as brother and sister in vibrant blue identical suits. The colour is lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone which is deep purple/blue and when the stone is mixed with egg tempura, gives it a lighter, brighter colour. It was used to paint the clothes of the most important, sacred people, including Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Kings and Queens. The Egyptian royalty used it and it was reserved as a colour for their clothes.
"There are many different interpretations of Cleopatra in art. Sometimes she is painted as blonde-haired and so the decision was made to steer away from wigs and use the natural hair of the singers, in this case the golden locks of singer Sarah Tynan. The feminine dress of Cleopatra's guise, Lydia, was made from hand-woven Varanasi, a silk from India with metalwork woven into it, and we dyed it on location to the same familiar blue colour. We were very keen to avoid clichéd portrayals of the Romans and Egyptians in this production, thus the set and costumes were designed to help create a real environment with real people."
Peter Restall, Technical Manager