Opera Amadigi Di Gaula

Baroque opera
“Amadigi Di Gaula”, Handel, 1715
Haymarket Opera Company, Chicago, IL, USA – November 2015

Stage director : Sarah Edgar
Musical director : Craig Trompeter
Costume designer : Meriem Bahri
Set designer : Zuleyka Benitez
Light designer : Lindsey Lyddan
Photographers: Benjamin Brachi – Charles Osgood – Topher Alexander

As always, Meriem Bahri’s sumptuous costumes are one of the chief delights of a HOC production. She manages to get everything so perfectly right, not just historically, but aesthetically, from the embroidered fringe of Oriana’s gown to the magical symbols on Melissa’s frock. They must be seen to be fully appreciated."

Barnaby Hughes, Stage and Cinema, November 9, 2015

Bahri, HOC's resident costume designer since the company's inception, quite outdid herself with her eye-filling, richly textured costumes."

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, November 7, 2015

Meriem Bahri’s sumptuous costumes, especially the contrast between Oriana’s soft red gown and Melissa’s stiff, ornate, dark brocade, conveyed us to the 18th century."

Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Classical Review, November 7, 2015


I choose the color palette of each show by taking into account which shades were in vogue when and where the opera was first presented. However, characters often dictate specific colors because they follow precise codes; in this show, for instance, the Furies will be in red, gold, and black, the way they were often depicted in the 17th and 18th centuries.
I sometimes like to work with one harmonious color palette for all characters, as I did for our last show (Telemann’s Don Quichotte), but for this tragedy with two love triangles, I opted for more contrasting colors to convey the ideas of passion and jealousy.
The colors for these two love triangles were chosen from two different perspectives. Dardano is an obstacle to the love between Amadigi and Oriana, and his dominant color is purple, a mix between Oriana’s reds and Amadigi’s blues. On the other hand, Oriana and Melissa are rivals for Amadigi’s love. Their dresses are both made of a shade of red, but treated differently, with Melissa’s darkened with black and antique gold, while Oriana’s is lightened with white and silver. The costumes of Oriana and Amadigi are linked to each other; the major color for Amadigi is the minor color in Oriana’s costume, and vice versa. At the end, when the lovers are reunited and the nightmare is over, the softer shades of blue and red in the shepherds’ costumes represent the harmony finally restored.


When I design costumes, I collect clues from different sources, like fashion books focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries, museum collections of paintings, and academic research about opera costumes that include period costume sketches. After gathering all this information, I play with the shapes and colors and decide which message I want the costumes to emphasize.
In the case of the princess Oriana, panniers (a framework of wire used to expand a woman’s skirt at the hips) were just coming into fashion in 1715, and that is why she’s the only character wearing them. She looks very fashionable compared to the sorceress Melissa, who seems stuck in another century. The taste for exoticism was also on the rise at that time, and this is particularly reflected in the costume of Dardano, Prince of Thrace. To design costumes for baroque operas, it’s also important to understand that they were full of codified symbols. For instance, magicians and sorceresses were often depicted with magical formula on their costume and with batwing shaped accessories; the Furies had snakes and scary masks on their faces and on their costumes; the hero, like Amadigi, wore items, such as tonnelets with lambrequins (a man’s skirt with hanging decorative pieces), originally derived from military leaders’ outfit in ancient Rome.
Besides looking at opera costumes and fashion, I also try to understand the political circumstances of the period: who commissioned and who was able to see the work, as operas could reflect a particular historical context on stage. When Amadigi di Gaula was composed, Protestant King George I of Great Britain had been on the throne for about a year, chosen instead of many potential Catholic heirs who had been considered to succeed Queen Anne. Handel, born in Germany like the new king, had already been working for the king since 1710 as his Kapellmeister. Knowing this context, a possible interpretation of this story is that the victory of Amadigi and Oriana could have been used to glorify the new king who won the British throne against the Catholics, represented by the sorceress Melissa, who might possibly remind the audience of a bloodthirsty Catholic queen!