The name Cinderella evokes all the nostalgic magic of old-school Disney—glass slippers, pumpkin carriages, and glittering gowns produced with a wave of a wand and a “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” But Edmonton Opera’s production of Cinderella: La Cenerentola—Gioachino Rossini’s 1817 retelling of the much older Cendrillon fairy tale—is updating the look of the classic story with a distinctive 1950s flair.
“The 50s really have this fabulous well of fashion that is pretty incredible,” says costume designer Deanna Finnman. “And because it’s always about the Cinderella gown, and the clothing of the sisters, it was just a huge pool that we could draw from.”
Fifties fashion may bring to mind leather jackets and Converse shoes, but Cinderella will draw more inspiration from the Paris catwalk than from Grease. Finnman looked at the work of 1950s haute couturiers like Christian Dior, as well as fashion icons like Audrey Hepburn.
“There’s two thrusts to what the couturiers were doing at that time,” Finnman explains. “One was a very frothy, ultrafeminine, lots of petticoats [look]. And then the other one is very angular, and you’ll see things like bows that reach for the sky and sharp angles. And that’s all done by the inside of the gown—so lots of corsetry, that kind of thing. And it’s really different than what we think of the 1950s, with the poodle skirts and the saddle shoes. High fashion was very extreme and very elite at that time.”
Finnman’s biggest challenge was constructing costumes that the performers could move in, given how rigid some of these designs could be.
“The 1950s clothes are very architectural, and it’s hard to replicate that,” she says. “And there’s also the fact that Rob Herriot is a very physical director, so he has them doing things that they wouldn’t in a million years do in the clothes that they’re wearing…Thankfully we have a bunch of singers on this opera who are as good of actors and movers as they are singers. So it all kind of works together.”
So much of the Cinderella story is about the transformative effect of clothing and how it can change other people’s perceptions of you. Mindful of this theme, Edmonton Opera has partnered with Suit Yourself, an organization that provides professional clothing for women who are seeking to re-enter the workforce.
According to Marketing Director Cameron MacRae, opera goers can donate a wide variety of items to Suit Yourself—suits, shoes, accessories—both at the opera and at Southgate Mall. This is the first time Edmonton Opera has formed this kind of partnership, but MacRae says they’ve already received a hugely positive response.
“Everyone knows the effect that the right clothes can have on your confidence, and anybody going out to a job interview knows that what they’re going to wear plays a big role,” MacRae says. “One of the themes of the opera is kindness. And the alternate title of Cenerentola is Goodness Triumphant. So we’re looking at a way to engage the community and have our patrons give back.”