Top Five Fashion Statements in Classical Music

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Mercedes Benz Fashion Week (flickr/j-no)

Now that Mercedes Benz Fashion Week has moved its tent from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center, the relationship between classical music and style seems closer than ever. But proximity isn’t the only link between the concert hall and the catwalk, and we’re not only talking about Yuja Wang’s little orange dress. Here are our top five fashion statements in music.

1. Puccini’s La Bohème (the "coat aria")

Wardrobe items seem to appear at pivotal moments throughout Puccini’s La Bohème: Rudolpho buys Mimi, a seamstress herself, a bonnet on their first outing together, and Musetta uses an ill-fitting shoe as an excuse to send away a lover of whom she’s grown bored. However, the bohemian Colline’s serenade to his coat, which he pawns to buy medicine for the dying Mimi, is perhaps the most sincere piece of music ever written for an article of clothing.

2. Leonard Bernstein’s "Glitter and Be Gay"

With lyrics like “My wardrobe is expensive as the devil,” and “if I’m not pure at least my jewels are,” "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide could be an anthem of fashion week. Though the singer, Cunegonde, has misgivings of easing her sorrows with material items, the pearls, ruby rings, and 20-carat earrings do lift her spirits enough so that she’s able to chirp out this showy coloratura song.

3. Strauss's Dance of the Seven Veils

While many odes about fashion concern putting on items, Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils,” from the Richard Strauss’s opera, is all about the art of disrobing—a theme that’s certainly inspired more than a few designers as well. The Italian fashion designer, Gianni Versace, known for his revealing clothes, even created the costumes for Robert Wilson’s production of the opera at La Scala.

4. Satie's Three Waltzes of a Jaded Dandy

French composer Erik Satie spent much of his life among fashionable Parisian society and alluded to it in a series of piano miniatures, Three Waltzes of a Jaded Dandy. The three movements are tributes to the dandy’s figure, his monocle and his legs. The composer’s style seems to have inspired the equally fashionable Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who recorded the work along with all of  Satie’s pieces for solo piano. In 2002, Thibaudet told the New York Post: “He loved to dress up. He had all his little shirts in special colors, with these wonderful cuff links . . . When he died, someone went to his house and found 17 of the exact same suits.”

5. Piatigorsky's Inventory

If The Sex and the City heroine Carry Bradshaw wrote an opera, we imagine it would look something like Brian Current and Anton Piatigorsky’s Inventory, which was staged as part of New York City Opera’s 2010 VOX festival. The entire piece revolves around a shopkeeper taking stock of extraordinary-looking and fantastically-named shoes—all of which are real models.

What music says fashion to you? Leave a comment below:

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Comments [3]

David from Flushing

How about an anti-fashion statement from Purcell's "King Arthur":

"Come, come, naked in for we are so,"

Sep. 07 2011 04:10 PM

In the first act of Umberto Giordano's “Andrea Chénier,” there is a dialogue between Maddalena (the prima donna role) and her maid Bersi, in which Maddalena describes all the different articles of clothing and makeup which an aristocratic French demoiselle is expected to wear in 1789. Her last line says, “E nata bella, eccoti fatta brutta,” which means, “And born beautiful, here you are made ugly!”

Sep. 06 2011 12:16 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Let's not forget that there are a lot of crucial fashion accessories in opera. Otello and the fazzoletto, the handkerchief. Barbarina and la spilla, the brooch, in Nozze di Figaro. And in Anna Bolena, the fatidic locket.

Sep. 06 2011 12:14 PM

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