Costume Design for Konstanze in Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio"
Paper, Saran Wrap, Twine from the Grand Bazaar,
Bitter Peppers from the Spice Bazaar
This design began in conjunction with a study abroad experience at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul, Turkey. The assignment was to research, design, and build a costume for the character of Konstanze in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. The design was conceived and constructed in paper within the span of four days, and the prompt was “East Meets West.”
In addition to texts and visual material, my research included cultural immersion in Istanbul as well as visits to palaces and museums to view artifacts, garments and architecture that existed during the time of the Ottoman Empire and Mozart’s opera. Stemming from these experiences, I present the costume design for Konstanze.
I chose to take a sculptural approach for Konstanze's costume and let the design of Mozart’s Seraglio arrive through improvisation, serendipity and experimentation on the 3D form.
A 360-degree design supported a theme in this opera that continues to be relevant today: objectification. The act of walking around a stationary subject and appraising it from all angles is similar to the objectification of woman and man, here, Konstanze. The contrast between a free, Western Konstanze and the suffocation of Ottoman women behind grated windows was expressed with Saran Wrap trapping oxygen, paper, and the body’s form.
I then drew upon my experiences as a westerner in Turkey to relate to the character of Konstanze, and visited Turkish palaces and harems which she once inhabited. I fused and fragmented Eastern and Western Elements in a swirl for her costume. A western corset resembling ships’ sails falls away to the bitter peppers and Ottoman sleeve, leading to the white seafoam bustle that crashes into watery blue Watteau pleats, with the structure being held together with shipping twine… This is one layer of the storytelling that I incorporated into the dress design.
These thoughts aligned with the multiculturalism inherent in the story as well as the realization that this opera continues to be performed internationally to this day, 200+ years after its conception. My design is influenced by the emotions communicated and felt by Konstanze’s pieces and Mozart’s soaring music that continue to move contemporary audiences.
I am grateful to the wonderful artists at Mimar Sinan University for being great hosts and teachers, as well as the MFA Theatre Design program and faculty at The University of Tennessee / Clarence Brown Theatre. UT provided the funding for this most fulfilling study abroad experience.