Gabriela Tylesova was fresh out of NIDA’s School of Costume Design when she was plucked from obscurity to design Simon Philips’ hilarious production of The Elixir of Love for the country’s largest performing arts organisation: Opera Australia.
Fast forward several years and the pair are frequent collaborators, with Tylesova’s larger-than-life designs providing a brilliant canvas for the skilled director’s gift for comedy.
The flamboyant partnership will be well and truly on display in next year’s production of The Turk in Italy, a sparkling, fast-moving farce set in an Italian seaside town. Phillips has moved the action to the 1950s, giving Tylesova the opportunity to revel in the bright colours and dramatic silhouettes of the period.
“It’s not a true 1950s restoration piece,” Tylesova explains. “It’s a stylised look, so we can play with prints and patterns and colours and shapes.”
The piece itself is “Opera Buffa”, a comedy that zips along using mistaken identities and lots of love triangles to tell a tale of love and lust, tricks and trysts.
“There is lots of space for jokes in the libretto,” the designer says. “It’s a silly, funny piece, so we were able to play with that feeling in the set.”
Downstairs in the Opera Australia workshop, skilled craftsmen and women are busy curving walls and gluing Astroturf. “The set started to evolve like a massive sculpture,” Tylesova explains. “It’s all built on a double revolve so we can deal with lots of locations – the beach, the house, the local bar, the hillside. It’s been lots of fun designing the house – complete with 1950s kitchen appliances.”
Philips and Tylesova have allowed the music to guide some of their theatrical choices. The double revolve not only enables multiple locations, but helps speed up the action.
“We wanted to be able to do set changes really fast, because the music moves really quickly,” Tylesova says.
The opera opens on a beach and the designer is planning beach balls, goggles and flippers as accessories for the sunbathers that open the show.
Tylesova has designed a range of swimwear that would be at home in any vintage revival store, with cinched waists, fluttery bathing skirts and wispy beach capes.
“The great thing about the 1950s is that swimwear was very flattering,” she says. “I can control the shape with boning.”
While the shapes are native to the period, Tylesova has avoided the pastel palette of the 50s in favour of bold colours and oversized patterns. To get just the right feel, Tylesova has designed many of the patterns herself and arranged to have them printed on fabrics.
The designer has gone beyond the oft-used La Dolce Vita look of theatre set in the 1950s, appropriating familiar symbols of pop culture and classic films to create a world that is genuinely larger than life.
The painted faces and striped outfits of Federico Fellini’s mime artists inspired a motley monochromatic look for a travelling band of gypsies, and the iconic looks of pop stars Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe light up the stage in a very different take on a masked ball.
It all promises to be a colourful romp through a bygone era: expect bright pink and green suits, purple satins and outlandish checks on the men, while jewel-tone blues and deep vermillion dresses provide striking looks for the principal women.
“I wanted really bold colours, a really bold world,” Tylesova explains.
The Turk in Italy opens at the Sydney Opera House on January 22, 2014 and the Melbourne Arts Centre on May 1, 2014.
For more information and tickets, click here.