When costumer Marie Anne Chiment and director Linda Brovsky were deciding where to set Seattle Opera's production of Rigoletto, they had an unusal guide — the opera still had the scenery for a previous production set in renaissance Italy and it would be very fiscally responsible of them to try and use the same set. Chiment figured that 2004 Italian architecture was around in the 1500s … or even the 1930s, during Mussolini's reign. “We looked for a time in history when there would be a strong male dominance over women,” Chiment explains. “Women couldn't even leave the house. Facist Italy was a time when someone like the Duke could have complete power over his court and Rigoletto could have complete power over his daughter.” Chiment also found it interesting that Mussolini would wear disguises to mix among the rabble, much like Rigoletto's Duke of Mantua.
Chiment found it impossible to resist the style of the 1930s. “Everybody looked good!” she says. “When you're dealing with such classic lines it's like having desert every day.” This version also begins with a grand party at the Duke's during Carnivale, Italy's answer to Mardi Gras. Rigoletto is portrayed as the Duke's major domo and is handing out masks and hats to the guests who arrive in their finery. The one hat that remains is a jester's hat that nobody wanted, so the Duke makes Rigoletto wear it, thus fulfilling his traditional role as court jester.
Chiment says she always wanted to costume Rigoletto and thoroughly enjoyed her research. “I watched 1930s movies and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's costume collection,” she explains. “Whenever I got my hands on an actual piece of clothing, I just pored over it and took plenty of photographs and measurements. I immersed myself so much that I felt like I was living back then, which, in my mind, is the best way to get into a project.”
The costume renderings were also influenced by the era, as Chiment created the costume drawings as if they were portraits in the style of quintessential art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka. “I wanted to take the next step and do a series of paintings that would do more than just show the costume shop how to build the clothes, but to show the cast and director the mood of the piece and give a feeling of the opera,” she explains. “The cast certainly has enjoyed having them to help find their characters.”