Stéphane Rolland Heads Back to the Opera With ‘The Magic Flute’

PARIS — Stéphane Rolland has caught the opera bug.

After staging his fall haute couture show at the sumptuous Opéra Garnier, the couturier and his business partner Pierre Martinez designed the costumes for a new production of “The Magic Flute” at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

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The show, which opens on Tuesday and runs until Nov. 24, marks the opera debut of French director Cédric Klapisch, known for cult movies including “L’auberge espagnole” (“The Spanish Apartment.”)

The filmmaker, whose most recent feature was set in the world of dance, has given Mozart’s comic opera a modern twist by turning it into an allegory of nature versus technology.  

Rolland and Martinez played into the concept with costumes that contrast metallic fabrics with colorful embellishments inspired by the Amazon rainforest. A case in point: Papageno’s black duchess satin boilersuit, fringed with neon green feathers on one sleeve and topped with a punk-like crest of plumes.

<a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Stéphane Rolland;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Stéphane Rolland</a>’s sketch for Papageno’s costume in “The Magic Flute.”
Stéphane Rolland’s sketch for Papageno’s costume in “The Magic Flute.”

“We were on board with the urban, streetwear spin, but we had to add a dream dimension, because that’s opera and that’s what the audience expects. Frankly, you don’t come to me for a plain jacket and pants,” Rolland told WWD. “It had to be simple and minimal, but extraordinary at the same time.”

Klapisch is known to favor a naturalistic approach for his films, but appreciated working with the couturier, who has dressed everyone from Beyoncé and Rihanna to Céline Dion.

“It was great, and it was really appropriate for this project because there is grandeur, and at the same time, you don’t know if it’s classic or contemporary. It’s both, actually,” he said after the opera’s dress rehearsal on Sunday night.

In line with tradition, the most extravagant outfit went to the Queen of the Night, played by Aleksandra Olczyk, who previously performed the role at the Metropolitan Opera. “When I saw my costume, I said, ‘Now I know I am in the capital of fashion,’” the Polish soprano enthused backstage.

Her gown required 55 yards of gold lamé fabric, while her glittering headdress is the work of textile sculptor Isabelle Léourier, who has previously created headgear for Rolland’s couture displays.

Aleksandra Olczyk as the Queen of the Night and Regula Mühlemann as Pamina in "The Magic Flute"
Aleksandra Olczyk as the Queen of the Night and Regula Mühlemann as Pamina in “The Magic Flute.”

“It’s a series of circles made of piano string, woven with threads like a spider’s web, and coated with a kind of paint that is dipped in gold and glitter and embroidered with crystals. The amount of work is insane. It’s really made to be seen up close, although the effect from a distance is incredible,” Rolland said.

The sparkling coif had to be adjusted in order not to put pressure on the singer’s neck and risk altering her voice during her famously difficult arias. Likewise for the graphic human-hair ponytails sported by the three ladies. “There is a whole metallic structure inside to achieve that shape,” said Rolland.

Klapisch wanted the couples in the storyline to be easily identifiable, so the designers used matching color codes. For instance, Tamino wears a fluttering red cape that pops against Clémence Bezat’s starkly lit sets, echoing Pamina’s hairdo with its cascade of vivid silk petals.

In addition, the singers wear bold slashes of makeup inspired by indigenous tribes. “Normally for an opera, they have a call time of 6:30 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. show. Here, they have to come in at 4:30 p.m. and they have an hour of makeup removal after the show,” noted Martinez.

Cyrille Dubois as Tamino flanked by the three ladies in "The Magic Flute"
Cyrille Dubois as Tamino flanked by the three ladies in “The Magic Flute.”

Rolland’s director of development and marketing is an opera buff who has encouraged the designer to deepen his relationships with cultural institutions. Rolland dressed Pretty Yende for the coronation of King Charles III and will reunite with the South African opera singer for an upcoming performance.

For the Expo 2020 world fair in Dubai, he created nearly 200 costumes for the United Arab Emirates’ first opera “Al Wasl” and in recent years, the designer has staged couture shows in a series of performance venues in the French capital.

His fall 2023 show at the Opéra Garnier, an homage to Maria Callas on the centenary of her birth, will feature in French director Claude Lelouch’s upcoming film “Finalement.”

With a thriving business — the brand expects to deliver 250 dresses this year, up 40 percent versus 2022 — the partners say their clientele appreciates a bit of theatrical flair.

“Our haute couture customer is seeking an artistic and spiritual dimension to clothing that is different from the clothes that you buy off the rack,” Martinez said. “They like this dramatization.”

Stéphane Rolland
Stéphane Rolland.

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