Sing the praises of RBG style

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The legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has inspired all manner of cultural peons since her death in September 2020. They have included a exhibition of memories of Justice at the New-York Historical Society, an upcoming children’s picture book, and an off-Broadway play written by Dianne Nora. But the latest tribute, a new work by Washington National Opera, is perhaps the most timely to date.

“Come Home: A Celebration of Return”, which takes place November 6-14 at the Kennedy Center, involves renowned opera singers like David Butt Phillip and Isabel Leonard performing songs that play on themes loosely related to life. and the work of Justice Ginsburg: freedom, equality, perseverance. This will be the first in-person production hosted by the Washington National Opera since the first lockdowns of Covid-19, and will feature not only songs from “Fidelio,” “Carmen,” “Macbeth” and “William Tell,” but costumes from the New York Fashion Week designer Bibhu Mohapatra.

Justice Ginsburg was an opera enthusiast (the art form played a major role in her friendship with her ideological counterpart, Justice Antonin Scalia), and a longtime supporter of the Washington National Opera. In 2016, the little judge even took on, for one night only, a small role without singing in the staging of the company “The daughter of the regiment”. Radiant throughout her performance and wearing an ornate chartreuse gown and dramatic headpiece, she was showered with thunderous applause.

As much as she loved opera, however, Judge Ginsburg was also finely tuned in to fashion, accessorizing her court attire with necklaces of varying styles and materials such as delicate lace, colorful beads, and seashells. . She once caught the internet’s attention by wearing a pair of shiny “Wizard of Oz” heels to the White House. So it was only fitting that when it was time to create the costumes for “Come Home”, the Opera turned to a designer familiar with colorful and eye-catching fashion: Bibhu Mohapatra, born in India and based in New York.

“It is my vision of her, ”said Mohapatra, whose clothes were worn by former first lady Michelle Obama and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

The opera’s artistic director, Francesca Zambello, said Mohapatra was chosen, in part, because of his work with a previous production of “Aida” in 2012, for which the creator delivered an opulent rendition of Egyptian fashion inspired by its NYFW. collections. Ms. Zambello wanted to put a similar emphasis on clothing for “Come Home”.

“I thought it was important to have a visual thread of clothing for all the artists involved,” Ms. Zambello said.

She added: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the biggest supporter of everything we do in opera. She has done so much for our art form by speaking out publicly and encouraging people to attend – we should all be incredibly grateful. “

To this end, Mr. Mohapatra created what he called the “opera couture” version of Ginsburg’s aesthetic: jewel-toned summer gloves, numerous feather earrings, and a voluminous twist on the black dress in the form of ball gowns extravagantly made up of colorful chiffon and silks.

According to the creator, the opera first contacted him about “Come Home” during a particularly difficult period of his life. Mr Mohapatra was in India for the first time in more than two years, attending the funeral of a brother who recently died from problems related to Covid-19. He received Ms. Zambello’s pitch as he toured sections of the subcontinent.

“For me it was important to get into this because there is no one more American than her,” Judge Ginsburg’s Mr. Mohapatra said, adding that after watching hours of clips and videos from the legal icon, he has become a committed “RBG”. -uh.

“It’s kind of my big American dream coming true, especially as an immigrant,” Mohapatra said.

For more on Justice, Mr. Mohapatra turned to the 2018 Oscar-nominated documentary “RBG” and watched interviews on YouTube. Then he scoured India for materials, especially his home state of Odisha on the east coast of India where he found rich and colorful ikat fabrics.

Mr Mohapatra decided early on to ditch Judge Ginsburg’s popular fashion markers – “The necklaces were too literal,” he said – in favor of a more subtle approach. He was particularly fascinated by the wide array of gloves that Judge Ginsburg wore, such as the pair of fishnets she had chosen for a shoot in Time magazine, and used them as a common thread for the singers, for whom he was creating a version. matching in shades of peacock and lace.

“There is a stealthy energy that she brought to the table,” Mr. Mohapatra continued. “She sent a message with the way she dressed.” One of power, he said, and of presence.

Ultimately, Mr. Mohapatra said, it is this greatness of thought that he most wanted to convey through his designs, and that he will remember the most. The “careful selection of words, its articulation, its thought process,” he said, “is something that I will keep with me for life.”


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