What will we see in this production that is quintessential ‘Daniel Lismore’?
Daniel Kramer, set designer Lizzie Clachan and I brought the narrative up to date and into the future. It’s the hardest opera to get your head around and it took a year of sitting down every week and coming up with concepts for it. I have never heard anything like it. When I go to the opera I want the visuals as well as the music, that’s what I crave. I’m trying to create, as surreal as the music is, a world that reflects the world of Birtwistle. I approached it as an artist – it’s going to be sculptural. The music is sculptural.
I lucid dream to come up with ideas because this is about nightmares and dreams. My creations are more art than costume, they are becoming art works. Looking at how big they are, how they’ve been interpreted by ENO – we’re going to need a bigger stage! It’s been really magical working with everyone here. The team are amazing. It has been very collaborative.
What are the challenges of this opera to you as a costume designer?
There are three worlds in the opera: the real world, the adultery world, and the God world, and it gets weirder and weirder and weirder. I tried to imagine being these characters at different stages but the challenge was that I couldn’t relate to some of them. Even though it’s about Orpheus, it’s all the other characters who set his world off. You need them to create him. Each character is played by three people on stage, sometimes at the same time. We’ve used colour and certain shapes to bind them together in these different worlds.
There have been other inspirations. For example, Eurydice is Elizabeth Taylor, Mariah Carey and Isabella Blow all in one, when she’s an adulteress. I thought who would be my favourite ladies who have this naughty, glamorous air about them.
They are all contemporary versions of who they are in the myths. Daphne Guinness is my inspiration when Eurydice becomes the Goddess. My favourite costume is Dionysus. It’s made of Swarovski crystal pomegranates, which were the sign of love in ancient Greece. The titans are going to tear her apart and literally rip up the outfit. She will be put back together by Rhea and on the flipside of the pomegranate is gold so there will be this powered version of her. Later we’ll see her with hardly anything on – the stripped-down version. Then she will be the almighty version of herself.
We’re using Swarovski elements in everything and have tried to recycle as much as possible. We will have used hundreds of thousands of upcycled Swarovski crystal and pearls in many of the 70+ costumes.
How do you hope your audience will feel when they leave the London Coliseum after this production?
I hope audiences will take something from it – maybe they’ll relate to all three worlds and think ‘I’ve been that person’. Or maybe they’ll think I really should be that God version of myself rather than the one that’s going through hell. Other people might just go ‘this is insane’ and it might be overload but sometimes that’s a good thing.
What do you think Birtwistle tells us in this telling of the Orpheus myth?
This music is trippy and Birtwistle must have been in a very creative mood. It’s genius, it’s haunting. I think the main narrative is that we’re all the same at the end of the day. It’s about exploring the different versions of yourself.
Orpheus is told not to look back, but what do you look back on and see as the key turning-point in your career that has brought you to direct this production at ENO?
Creating my book. They had seen my book and asked if they could use my outfits for the costumes for the show, but they are sculptures now so I said let’s make something new. I’ve always wanted to do an opera, so it’s a dream come true. And working with Daniel Kramer – his mind is insanely full of creative ideas. It’s amazing to work with ENO.
Sum up for us in three words what this production means to you.
Surreal, creative, haunting.
English National Opera’s The Mask of Orpheus runs until 13 November at the London Coliseum