Zandra Rhodes
Arts & Entertainment
Zandra Rhodes’ costume magic
‘The Magic Flute’ returns to the San Diego Opera May 6
Published Thursday, 04-May-2006 in issue 958
A tale of a hero’s quest for true love through an enchanted world full of griffins, lions, crocodiles and dragons, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute returns to the San Diego Opera May 6-17, bringing with it the costumes of world-renowned fashion and textile designer Zandra Rhodes.
With her trademark blend of spunk and elegance, both personally and professionally, Rhodes first designed costumes for the San Diego Opera’s sold-out 2001 production of The Magic Flute, and she’s brought them back, fine-tuned and perfected, for this month’s run.
“I think the main thing is that it needs to be very magical,” Rhodes told the Gay & Lesbian Times from her office in London.
Born in Kent, England, in the 1940s, Rhodes attended Medway College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London before establishing her own retail outlet in 1969 in West London. She counts Elton John and the late Princess Diana among the rich and famous she has designed for, and is the founder of the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, where she creates all of her designs from scratch. Rhodes served as a royal designer in the U.K. and was made a commander of the British Empire by the queen in 1997. Her reputation has also earned her six honorary doctorates.
With a resume like that, it’s no wonder the opera asked her back for this year’s production, which commemorates the 250-year anniversary of Mozart’s birth and concludes the San Diego Opera’s 2006 season. Rhodes’ spectacular, opulent costuming is the ideal visual complement to Mozart’s most fantastical opera.
Siphiwe McKenzie as Papagena and Paul Armin Edelmann as
Explained in the simplest terms, The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) is a fairy tale that follows the young Prince Tamino (German lyric tenor Rainer Trost) on his quest to rescue the young and beautiful Pamina (German soprano Ute Selbig), who has been abducted by the high priest Sarastro (Polish bass Daniel Borowski) and is being kept by Sarastro’s minion Monostatos (Swiss tenor Martin Zysset). After the Queen of the Night (American soprano Cheryl Evans) gives Tamino a magic flute to protect him from misfortune, he and Papageno (Austrian baritone Paul Armin Edelmann), a birdcatcher for the Queen of the Night, enter Sarastro’s dominion together. There, the high priest forces Tamino through tests of fire and water to prove his worth and win Pamina’s affections. Along the way, Papageno meets his future love, Papagena (Canadian soprano Siphiwe McKenzie), after experiencing his own tribulations. The opera is full of metaphor, allegory and musical symbolism, pitting good against evil in one of Mozart’s most popular and highly regarded works.
The design elements for 2001’s Flute costumes were decided from working closely with the director.
“We’d talk about it, then I’d come up with ideas, then I’d go back to him again and say, ‘How do you like this idea?’ And if he didn’t like it, I’d have to go back to the drawing board again,” she said. “So it was really that more than anything else.”
Because there’s a completely different cast this time around, certain revisions and alterations had to be made on the costumes. Additional adjustments were, in fact, perfections, she said, and she’s pleased with the results.
All the costumes were designed between San Diego and London, and fine-tuned when Flute played in Dallas earlier this year. “They might be done on a plane, they might be done working together – it’s sort of really wherever it happens,” she said.
The Queen of the Night in the San Diego Opera’s 2001 production of ‘The Magic Flute’
Papageno has green hair, as does Papagena, and all of the animals are DayGlo fluorescent. When the magic flute is played, the animal characters go into a sort of trance and the stage lighting switches to black lights so that the characters stand out more.
“So, for example, you have the crocodile [which] is sort of bluish-fluorescent and the monkeys are fluorescent yellow and fluorescent pink, and they sort of shimmer and glow,” Rhodes explained. “And then when the magic flute stops playing, they’ve all disappeared.” Likewise for when the magic glockenspiel is played and the slaves begin to dance: All of the patterns on the slaves’ tight-fitting body suits come to life.
“The Queen of the Night and all the evil people are sort of blue and dark blue and things,” she said of her color scheme. “And all good ones are like the sun: All the priests are in golden yellows and things.”
Sung by the Queen of the Night, “O Zittre Nicht, Mein Lieber Sohn!” (“Oh Tremble Not, My Dear Son!”) is easily one of Mozart’s most famous and stunning arias. Though the Queen is “every little girl’s dream” when she comes down to sing her aria, Rhodes happens to love Monostatos, the slave driver, because “he’s got lots of character.”
Rhodes also designed both the set and costumes for the San Diego Opera’s 2004 project of The Pearl Fishers. For that production, she traveled to India to gather ideas for the lavish, shimmering costumes and Nirvana-like set – a pearl landscape overlooking an ocean made of iridescent silk – which she then designed and produced to complement composer Georges Bizet’s tale of the burning love triangle between two best friends and a priestess forbidden to both of them.
Daniel Borowski as Sarastro
At the moment, the fashion guru is busy working on her next collection, which will launch in London in September. She also has a line of china she’s designed for Royal Doulton that she’s busy promoting.
Anyone who loves color and the grand theatricality of opera will not want to miss this elaborate production of The Magic Flute.
The San Diego Opera’s production plays at the Civic Theatre, located in the San Diego Concourse at the intersection of Third Avenue and B Street in downtown San Diego. Single-ticket prices range from $27 to $172 (top price for opening night), and can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or visiting
An in-depth lecture on The Magic Flute presented by local university professors and musicologists will take place Saturday, May 6, at 10:00 a.m. at the Carlsbad City Library. Admission is free.

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