Costume designer and long-time Folger collaborator Mariah Anzaldo Hale‘s “sumptuous” costumes are currently on full, luxurious display in Folger Theatre’s “gorgeous” production of Amadeus. To help us learn more about the work that went behind these beautiful outfits, Hale guides us through the costume journey of Constanze Weber—Mozart’s wife, played by Lilli Hokama—during the first act of the play.
Constanze Weber Mozart in this production of Amadeus is a much more complicated woman than silly girl, as she can often be interpreted. Richard [Clifford] and I wanted to convey her youth, vitality, and freshness, and segue visually through the arc of her character as she becomes a woman and copes with the oppressive Viennese establishment in her own savvy, singular style. We could visually compare her style to that at Marie Antoinette in the same period. As an arbiter of taste and fashion, the French Queen created new and deconstructed old styles to suit her own simplicity.
Marie Antoinette had an un-fussy, anti-baroque taste which caught on and incensed the aristocratic establishment—even as they sought to emulate her style. Translating this to Constanze’s style for our purposes, we use pastels rather than dark jewels tones and florals and delicate stripes rather than heavy Renaissance damask patterns. Rather than the over-decorated gowns of Madame Von Strack and the other court cronies, most of her gowns are in the simple “country” style; à l’Anglais, Italian, and polonaise style.
But first, we must establish the foundation for all of these garments: chemise, steel boned stays, hip roll and petticoats. All women wore a simple chemise under their boned stays. For our theatrical purposes, we forego this extra layer in favor of a simple bandeau/cami. Lilli [Hokama] has stays that were custom made of cotton twill and synthetic whalebone and copied from an original corset from the 1780s. While the original has shoulder straps, we opt to eliminate those in favor of a bit more shoulder mobility for the stage.
The hip roll itself is a very simple stuffed, shaped tube that ties around the upper hip. This foundation fixture has been used from the late 1500s through the early 1800s.
It is true that panniers were still worn at this point in the century. They reached their height of size around 1750 and decreased in size from there to the end of the century. In Amadeus, we opt for only the simple hip roll. Again, younger women were discarding the outmoded panniers (following Marie Antoinette’s lead), and panniers can also cause quite a bit of trouble onstage being too wide for doorways and generally getting in the way.
The first gown we see Constanze wear, we call her “party dress.” It would have been a gown her mother made or had made for Constanze to wear to special occasions. She would have had only one, which is why we see her wear it to more than one special occasion onstage. It is in the Italian style: has no boned v- shaped over-decorated stomacher (instead closes simply down the center front) and the bodice shapes into a V at the center back waist. It’s made in what would be called a striée (or striped) silk taffeta and decorated with ruching in silk to coordinate.
The underskirt or petticoat is also striped taffeta with a hem ruffle in cream embroidered silk organza. The bodice and sleeves are decorated only with bobbinet embroidered lace, embroidered organza lace ruffles, and 3 simple double faced blue satin ribbons. This bespoke gown was made specifically for Ms. Hokama. A simple dress for a simple girl which draws comparison with the beribboned, lace, and jewel encrusted bodice of the older, jaded courtier, Madame Von Strack.
At the next party, we see Constanze in what Richard and I call her “Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady” dress. Here she is wearing the very baroque, very traditional robe à la francaise style with a Watteau back and covered in gratuitous silk ruching. This dress helps us tell the story as she knuckles under and tries to play the part of an establishment grande dame. But in this scene, we see she’s not cut out to conform, either in style or temperament. We found this dress in stock at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ, then rescued it from a purgatory of lime green and pink ribbon.
The dress she wears to Salieri’s apartment is perhaps the most important frock she wears in terms of storytelling. Again, a simple gown in the Italian style with a polonaise style skirt. The “polonaise” skirt is created by stitching drapery loops inside the skirt and pulling a ribbon wound through the loops to create the effect. From a utilitarian perspective, the overskirt was often longer than floor length and was pulled up in the polonaise style to keep it from getting filthy in the streets.
The gown is made in cotton floral brocade with cotton print bias trim and simple lace ruffles at sleeve and neckline. A petticoat of polished, watermarked cotton with brocaded stripes is worn under. Cotton, of any sort, was the newest and most fashionable fabric of this period with the English control of Indian cotton trade. Marie Antoinette did her best to utilize cotton in her fashion innovation, much to the chagrin of French silk weavers. Cotton textiles fit in perfectly with her desire for simple elegance. While Madame Von Strack might be too set in her ways to deviate from old fashioned heavy silks, Constanze is showing us her progressive individualism in cotton. This dress was also made to order for Ms. Hokama for Amadeus at Folger Theatre.
Some may have noticed that she wore two different hats with this ensemble during the course of tech and dress rehearsals. Originally, we ambitiously made a picture hat in the style of Gainsville’s portraiture in the 1780 and 90s. But discovered that without sidelight, it was impossible to light Ms. Hokama’s face. So we quickly whipped up a little tricorn style hat to solve the problem. Ahhhh the magic of the theater!
Thank you to Mariah for sharing insights into her beautiful costumes! Folger Theatre’s Amadeus continues performances until December 22. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.