A forgotten opera gets its world premiere 280 years late A Jean-Philippe Rameau opera, left unfinished at time of his death and recently completed by a musicologist, gets its premiere 280 years later, with extravagant costumes.



A forgotten opera premieres 280 years late

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An opera is getting its world premiere this week, even though the original music and lyrics are about 280 years old.


EMMANUELLE DE NEGRI: (As Io, singing in non-English language)

MAXIME MELNIK: (As Apollo, singing in non-English language)

FADEL: Musicologist Sylvie Bouissou.

SYLVIE BOUISSOU: We don't know nothing about this opera - not the theater for which it was intended nor the date of composition and not why Rameau has not completed this opera.

FADEL: She recently completed "Io" by 18th century French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.

BOUISSOU: It's my life. Do you see?

FADEL: Yeah.

BOUISSOU: So I have the operas in my head. To try to complete the work and give it a possible life at last after almost 300 years - it was quite a challenge. Believe me.

FADEL: That's incredible. You give it life on the stage for the first time.

BOUISSOU: Yeah. I hope American public feels that. It's a gift, really. It's a gift.

FADEL: As it turns out, "Io" was most likely a draft for "Platee," Rameau's first attempt at a comic opera and the most favored of his operas during his lifetime.


AVI STEIN: Do it a little faster. One, two, three, four.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing in non-English language)

FADEL: "Io" has never been performed on stage before, and we got a sneak peek behind the scenes as a chamber orchestra rehearsed the music using Baroque-period instruments with Avi Stein conducting from the harpsichord.

STEIN: Here we go. Fasten your seatbelts, boys.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing in non-English language)


FADEL: Lafayette's production, which gets its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this week and an additional performance in New York next week, pays tribute to Rococo. It's a dramatic and lavish style prevalent in the arts in late 18th-century France. Machine Dazzle, a tall and curly-haired rising star in costume design, was tasked to make the outfits. His style fits perfectly with that period. It's anything but subtle. His outfits use excess in scale, color, texture, with hints of drag and burlesque, featuring sequins, glitter and found objects.

MACHINE DAZZLE: When we were reading through it, we were all laughing the whole time. I loved how funny it is, and I loved how short it is. You think of opera, and you think of hours and hours, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you know what I mean. It's a one-act opera ballet with five lead characters and six dancers and 16 chorus members. How fun. Images came to my mind.

FADEL: So you could already see it when you were first reading through the opera.

DAZZLE: Yes. There really is a lot of humor, and that's something I love to use in my work, is humor. First, there's Io. Jupiter is in love with her, and then Apollo is in love with her too. And then they go back and forth. But of course, Io only chooses one of them. And then there's a storm, and then enters the realm of possibility by way of pleasure and grace and playfulness.

FADEL: The French Rococo period - how does that aesthetic work with your own aesthetic?

DAZZLE: Completely natural. It truly is a maximalist and more - it's more aesthetic, and everything is abundant...

FADEL: Yeah.

DAZZLE: ...And alive and beautiful and lush and everything is, like, a dessert that has 20 layers.

FADEL: So sitting right in front of you, I see a multicolored wig and flowers. Tell me what that is.

DAZZLE: It is the wig for the main character of Io. And she is immortal. It is an ombre from, like, a dark auburn hair color. Then there's - it goes to, like, a fiery orange and then to a yellow. And it completely complements the costume that she is wearing, which is inspired by the Io moth.

FADEL: And based on the hair, this seems to be quite an over-the-top character.

DAZZLE: Well, the whole production is over the top. Sometimes you start somewhere, and there's no going back, you know? But I have a sketch here that I could hold up.

FADEL: Yeah, I'd love to see it.

DAZZLE: So it's this long, floor-length, kind of, like, cape dress thing that is layered, and there's a whole red dress that goes underneath, but the whole cape is inspired by the Io moth, the wings, like, the eyes...

FADEL: I can see that.

DAZZLE: ...On the moth.

FADEL: The cape looks like wings.

DAZZLE: Because the costume is so extreme, you can't just have any regular hairstyle.

FADEL: Yeah.

DAZZLE: I found the perfect wig, and I styled it into this kind of modern, like, beehive.

FADEL: I'd love to hear more about the other costumes and sort of what you've created for them.

DAZZLE: Sure. So Jupiter and Apollo - they have mortal disguises.

FADEL: And Jupiter and Apollo are the gods that are fighting over Io...

DAZZLE: Correct. So, you know...

FADEL: ...For her love.

DAZZLE: ...Jupiter is Jupiter. Apollo is the sun. And so they have their celestial costumes, but they don't get revealed until later. They kind of disguise themselves to woo. Io is the female version of the moth...

FADEL: Yeah.

DAZZLE: ...While Jupiter disguises himself as the male version. Apollo isn't quite getting it right, and he's, like, a bit of a mess.

FADEL: Oh, wow. Yeah.

DAZZLE: It's like he threw out the net, but he kind of, like, failed and got caught up in his own net, and he's draped in fish and seaweed and whatever.

FADEL: Yeah.


FADEL: He's losing in the love triangle here, I think.

DAZZLE: He's losing. But his outfit is entertaining nonetheless.

FADEL: Definitely. Looking at your costumes, I don't think of the opera in the traditional sense. I see something of today.

DAZZLE: When you take an old opera, I think it's important to make it more current.

FADEL: Yeah.

DAZZLE: You can do that through, you know, adding little playful things. Like, there might be a simmering romance between two heavenly bodies that I cannot disclose. I didn't want to create old historical-looking costumes. That gets done ad nauseam, you know what I mean?

FADEL: I'm curious. What are you thinking about for that first opening night when people will see the visual part of this creation?

DAZZLE: I am going to be sitting in the back row so that I can see everyone's reactions. It will be very satisfying. I am an audience designer.

FADEL: Yeah.

DAZZLE: I am a storyteller. I'm an entertainer. You can simply put costumes on someone and tell a story without them opening their mouth. All they have to do is walk across the room. And you can tell a story that way if you want to. If you can do that and pair it with an amazing opera, then you win.


FADEL: Costume designer Machine Dazzle, thank you.

DAZZLE: Thank you so much for having me.


DOUGLAS WILLIAMS: (As Jupiter, singing in non-English language).

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