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Recreating the Fashions of Ancient Egypt for Akhnaten

Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten in a scene from Phelim McDermott's spring 2016 English National Opera presentation of Akhnaten, a co-production with LA Opera; Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten in a scene from Phelim McDermott’s spring 2016 English National Opera presentation of Akhnaten, a co-production with LA Opera; Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Many opera goers may not realize how much costume design is involved in telling a production’s story. Award-winning costume designer Kevin Pollard shared some interesting tidbits about how costume creation plays a role in informing the audience and moving the story forward in this season’s Akhnaten.

Most of what the world understands about the ancient Egyptian royals is theory, based on hieroglyphics and artifacts that captured the world’s attention in the 1920s, when Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered.  Pollard sought to find an innovative way of interpreting ancient Egypt while maintaining the awe of viewing a new world, never before seen.  He has, through costume design, intricately woven together a simultaneous sense of history and the transition of time, as well as the struggles of both the royal family and their subjects.

Kevin Pollard's costume designs for the chorus in Akhnaten (2016); Photo: English National Opera/LA Opera

Kevin Pollard’s costume designs for the chorus in Akhnaten (2016); Photo: English National Opera/LA Opera

Pollard’s costume design is an amalgam of worlds colliding – from ancient Egypt, to colonialism, to the present day – layered together. He began by focusing on the chorus. He started with a 1920s style but appearing partially mummified, rotted, and caked in mud and dried earth, as though the characters had been entombed for a long time. Topped with animal headdresses, depicting the ancient polytheistic gods, Pollard captures a world caught between its buried past and emerging future. The production’s jugglers tie into the same earthy feel, as the desert itself, with their color palette and fabric design representing the dry, cracked landscape.

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