Womanhood in high fashion takes the spotlight at Florence Price’s debut opera

Before an audience at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on Friday, soprano Florence Price debuted her new opera, Eurydice, set in the world of high fashion. A great part of the story, she said, is about “how women are treated, sexually assaulted, drug-addicted, often treated like commodities.”

The audience was right at home: The most intimate details about fashion and its designers were all there. And then Price’s musical director, Joseph Calleja, showed up for a dress rehearsal at the Kennedy Center.

His wild, performance-perfect rendition of “La Traviata” was a surprise to Price, who has been taking classical voice lessons at the Lincoln Center since she was 16.

“I can’t believe Joseph Calleja sang in Italian at the Kennedy Center,” Price said afterward. “He’s a good Italian.”

She had to know: When she signed on to write the opera, she knew it would feature real-life couture brands like Dior, Valentino, Armani, and Daphne Guinness.

Calleja’s costumes for the opera are a literal mix of fantasy and reality, then some surprising surrealism, brought to life by the opera’s designers, Julianne Boyd and Julie Mehretu.

Price said her favorite costume — in fact, “my favorite costume in the entire world” — was made by Dior’s recently departed founder, Christian Dior. He’s fully clothed in a strapless white gown that folds around his frame, another spot where reality is a little off-kilter.

What would the designers do for an opera?

For one, Mehretu made 3-D costumes that would reflect the movement of the characters. “It was very like with my artwork when I made a 3-D piece,” she said in an interview. “When you see the movement it changes when you move, when you raise your hands. The panting is the panting, the skin is not really covered when you move, and so it would really be quite a reaction to what the audience is used to.”

That panting for a performance seems to be the theme of Eurydice: Everything in the opera is accompanied by a “vamping” sound, which the designers tell us is about “precisely that kind of gender policing that happens.”

Leave a Comment