Opera Carolina’s upcoming run of the Verdi masterpiece “Macbeth” is packed with witches, paranoia and murder. And no dark detail was spared in the Italian-made costumes you’ll see in this new production at Belk Theater Nov. 7, 9 and 10.
Witches draped in hooded capes glow from tiny lights that illuminate above their brows. Ghost kings’ faces are covered by haunting chainmail fabric. The 60-some performers will be covered in rich furs, weathered leathers and horned masks.
All of the 200-some costumes were designed by Ivan Stefanutti, the Italy-based director and designer who last worked with Opera Carolina in its 2017 production of “The Girl of the West.” Not only did Stefanutti design the costumes for Macbeth — he’s directing the opera as well.
Where the costumes were made has star cachet: all were brought to life in the Venice costume shop Atelier Nicolao, the same workshop where costumes from the first two seasons of the TV show “Outlander” were created. And it makes sense: Macbeth is set in tartan-wrapped Scotland, as is the Starz time-travel series.
Stefanutti said his goal in costume design and in directing Macbeth was to transport the audience to a place “that’s very magical, with a lot of shadows and darkness, where blood has no color and (everything) is completely colored by the desire of power.
“I hope to bring them to a fantasy Scotland — a ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ kind of world,” Stefanutti said. “Macbeth has all these levels of writing: there’s a magical part, a political part. I think they are all very important. ... If you have a big imagination, you can do something very rich.”
Opera audiences in Toledo, Ohio, got the first look at these costumes, because the Toledo Opera performed Macbeth in early October with costumes and direction by Stefanutti. (The seven principal performers for Opera Carolina’s production also performed in Toledo.)
Once Toledo’s show wrapped Oct. 6, the costumes were shipped to Charlotte, where they arrived in giant wardrobe boxes on Oct. 9. After Opera Carolina’s Macbeth run is complete, they’ll go back to Italy.
The ‘Jon Snow’ rack
For the weeks leading up to Opera Carolina’s opening night, the costumes have been stored in a giant room on the fourth floor of First United Methodist Church uptown. That’s where costume coordinator Betsy Blackmore has been feverishly holding fittings for the 50 chorus members and 10 supernumeraries (opera’s equivalent of movie extras).
When you add up all of the costume elements Blackmore is responsible for — the gowns and capes, the pants, jackets, vests and the shoe covers, hats and jewelry and wigs — they easily number in the thousands.
The fabric for Lady Macbeth’s black and white plaid gown was specially made in Italy because Stefanutti couldn’t find the right pattern he was looking for. Many of the silks and tartan plaids he had dyed so they would be exactly the hue he envisioned.
“I call this my Jon Snow rack,” Blackmore laughs, referring to the brooding Game of Thrones character as she motions to a lengthy garment rack holding dozens of men’s chorus costumes, many trimmed with real furs.
“What (Venician workshop owner Stefano Nicolau) created for us from Ivan’s designs is a layered, textured look that is literally from Game of Thrones. They are lots of layers and pieces, and each chorus person has a different look, has a different vest that has textures and a weathered, distressed look even though they’re brand new.”
A chilling effect
The costumes combined with lighting design by veteran Opera Carolina production director Michael Baumgarten work together to create a chilling effect onstage.
In one scene, the witches are positioned in such a way that with their hooded capes and dangling fringe “you don’t know they’re witches because they look like a craggy mountain,” Blackmore says.
“It is a gorgeous, brilliant production that is unusual. And it’s something (audiences) will not have seen before,” Blackmore says.
Megan Miller, who’s both an Opera Carolina chorus member (she’ll play a witch in Macbeth) and the opera’s communications director, says Macbeth has all the elements to make audiences feel like they’ve left the Belk Theater.
“You have mystery, you have love, you have mischief,” Miller says. “For a few hours, you transport to a different time, and a different world.”
Want to go?
Opera Carolina’s production of Macbeth at the Belk Theater runs Nov. 7, 9 and 10. Tickets range from $22 to $161. To buy tickets https://www.carolinatix.org/events/detail/opera-carolina-macbeth.