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Tosca: Designing a diva

The character of Floria Tosca, in the story, is Rome’s most celebrated opera singer. We caught up with Tosca‘s BAFTA-winning costume designer Fotini Dimou to discover her thoughts and inspirations for designing opera’s most iconic prima donna.

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Act I

In Act I, Tosca enters the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in day wear – a richly coloured coat with a bit of fur and a very soft leather skirt. “She looks a bit like a woman who reads Vogue and spends money on herself. She’s a performer, she’s an artist, she’s sexy. She dresses individually and interestingly,” explains Fotini.

This outfit, all tailor-made, was particularly complicated and took 10 full days just to prepare for the first fitting back in 2018. “The coat is very intricate – it’s got embellishments and applique on it,” says Fotini. “The work on these costumes is very detailed. It requires all the skills of an haute couture workshop. I have to say that Opera North does have this. The quality of the cutters, the makers, the people who work here – they’re very highly trained.”

Giselle Allen as Tosca and Robert Hayward as Scarpia (2018) © Richard H Smith

Act II

During Act II, Tosca, it is suggested, is giving a performance at a glittering formal event (the music for which can be heard offstage) before she is summoned to Scarpia’s hotel room. She enters in a very glamorous red carpet style dress, “I was thinking of the Oscars or the Golden Globes” says Fotini, “I wanted her to look a bit like that modern image of a diva or an actress.”

This costume took five days to prepare: “It is beaded and the fabric does a lot of the work – it’s very fitted and there are layers underneath of silk and organza to give depth. We embellished on top of that with a Swarovski crystal trim. It has pearls, sequins, it’s very fine. It’s almost like a Marilyn Monroe kind of dress, but very modern at the same time,” describes Fotini.

The dress for Tosca's Act II costume being cut © Opera North


Act III has a very different feel. “I decided that she should go home and throw on a travelling outfit, some very casual trousers, a beautifully made coat and a big bag,” says Fotini. Tosca believes she is escaping Rome with Cavaradossi after the mock execution, but of course, we all know how the story ends…

Of our costume department at Opera North, Fotini says, “It’s one of my favourite departments in the country because the work is excellent and beautifully done. It’s a very special place to be working in.”

Fotini Dimou's sketch for Tosca's Act III costume | Rafael Rojas as Cavaradossi and Giselle Allen as Floria Tosca (2018) © Richard H Smith

Tosca returns to Opera North January–March 2023.

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