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The outfits make the opera The Palais Garnier is not only home to most ballet productions in Paris; it also houses the Library-Museum of the Paris Opera. On display are a handful of the thousands of different costumes that have been used in the French opera house during its lifetime. Framed on the walls are the original designs for many more, some colourful and wild, others strict and confined in both palette and style. The artist's notes are in a diagonal scrawl across the page or inoffensively printed in the corner, as is their wont. In any art form, each artist will create something unique, even if given the same subject to work with, and the opera is no different. Joseph-Porphyre Pinchon's Mephistopheles from the 1908 production of Faust is nearly unrecognisable as the same character from that of 1956. While the former wears an ornate red robe that has a religious appearance, Georges Wakhévitch's version also wears red, but wears the clothes of a Renaissance lord. Yves Saint Laurent was the first fashion designer to take part in the production of opera, and in 1965 he designed the costumes for Notre-Dame de Paris. In his 1965-1966 fall-winter fashion line, it was clear that his “Mondrian” day dress had been inspired by his costume for Phoebus, and from then on, fashion and the opera have continued life hand in hand, as is only natural for two art forms that so closely overlap. Both are focused on overall themes, creating an atmosphere, and presenting their art in a memorable, meaningful way. Before the costume designers were appointed to create the sets as well, the final result could often be worryingly incongruous, as the visions of two or more artists were brutally limited and then spliced together, with little or no collaboration. Once one artist was put in charge of both, however, the opera would become not only a joy for the ears, but a visual performance so powerful in its unity that it would assault the senses in an awe-inspiring wave of energy. Almost as arresting as the final product -the opera itself- are the costume designs, and part of their beauty lies in their singularity. Jaques Drésa's soft, Dumas-like costumes for the marshal's wife in R. Strauss' 1927 Le Chevalier á la rose are shockingly different when juxtaposed against the symmetrical, watercolour splash that is the mandarin's costume in the 1968 production of Turandot. The painted bodies and bright colours of the flower girls in Wagner's 1973 Parsifal look almost ghoulish when compared to Ezio Frigerio's delicate countess from Mozart's 1973 Les Nôces de Figaro. But this difference is natural: every opera, like every artist involved, is a being unto itself, beautiful and proud and unique. Mark Twain famously said 'Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society', but is that also true of operas? Would Carmen or Phantom of the Opera be the successes they are today if the characters pranced about on stage in plain black leotards, or no clothes at all? Perhaps, but I feel that half the beauty of an opera lies in the costumes, which are always as varied and astounding as the productions they are created for.

The outfits make the opera  

While visiting the Palais Garnier in Paris, I was really impressed by the collection of costumes and costume designs on display in the part...

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