DRESS REHERSAL: For Maison Lesage artistic director Hubert Barrère, the June 21 premiere of “Zémire et Azor,” the opéra-comique — a genre of French opera with dialogue as well as sung segments — will be culmination of a childhood dream.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he told WWD ahead of June 21 premiere of this performance for which he designed the costumes and décor at the invitation of Opéra Comique director Louis Langrée.
Written by 18th-century composer André Grétry, the story loosely follows the plot of the Beauty and the Beast and was adapted to Queen Marie-Antoinette’s tastes, with Zémire as the daughter of a merchant from Ormuz, Iran, who picks a rose from the garden of cursed prince Azor, setting the story in motion.
It appealed to Barrère because he recalled hearing a 1960s rendition featuring French opera singer Mady Mesplé over the radio as a child, already sketching dresses and for the constant transformation of ugliness into beauty.
“In embroidery, we are illusionists, we make you believe things through sleights-of-hand using materials and designs,” said Barrère, who served as scenographer and costume designer for the performance.
For the backdrop, Barrère imagined a surrealist maze in a French garden, which he described as being organized somewhat like the structure of a palace, as the home of the cursed prince, while Zémire’s family home is set in an interpretation of the Iranian city.
Another reason why Barrère accepted Langrée’s proposition is that it came as a carte blanche. Even for the Lesage head, “it’s not every day you get offered that,” he said. As such, there was no need to go into period-drama territory.
Beyond powdered wigs worn for the performance and Zémire’s Lesage-embroidered dress that nods to the sack-back look of its original era, the play’s other characters are clad in more contemporary fare. Take her sisters, clad in corseted outfits rooted in the ’50s fuller-skirted look.
For Barrère, such projects are important to the Chanel-owned embroidery specialty atelier as a representative of a craft “plural in its quality and richness” that he considers “a cultural crossroad that dates back 400 years and stems from intercultural exchanges.”
“It doesn’t matter if you want to work on medieval designs, hyper contemporary or even in the far-flung future. Nothing is impossible in embroidery,” he continued. “We follow what creators ask but as embroiderers, we are free to adapt our know-how to the tools and techniques of the times. Only keep in mind that you have to be doing ‘today’ in all its multifaceted reality.”
“Zémire et Azor” will be performed at the Opéra Comique, also known as the National Theater of the Opera Comique, in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, from June 23 to July 1.