OPERA NEWS - Liner Notes: Austin Scarlett
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Liner Notes: Austin Scarlett

By Louise T. Guinther

Liner Notes Austin Scarlett lg 419
© Gary Plumblee

The Basics

AUSTIN SCARLETT, a native of Cottage Grove, Oregon, began designing fashions as a child. After studies at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, he parlayed his success on the first season of Project Runway into an international career, founding his own design house in 2012. Scarlett, who apprenticed as a costume-design assistant and pattern-cutter early on, has continued his interest in theater, creating costume designs for Parsons Dance on PBS and productions at Juilliard, Fort Worth Opera, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Shen Wei Dance Arts.

OPERA NEWS: What was your first encounter with opera?

AUSTIN SCARLETT: I never experienced opera firsthand until I moved to NYC. The idea of it fascinated me, but I had only read about it in books by Edith Wharton and seen it in films like Camille, with Greta Garbo. My first real opera was Zeffirelli’s Turandot at the Met, so I guess you could say I had a dazzling beginning.

ON: What was your most memorable experience in an opera house? 

AS: My first time visiting Venice, for a treat, we got tickets for Parsifal. Just being inside the theater is one of my most vivid and glorious opera memories. Then the performance began. The production—the bleakest, grayest, most minimal and severe I had ever seen—along with the harrowing, five-hour Wagner drama, was in absolute contrast to the space we were in and destroyed the Venetian Baroque experience I had dreamed of.

ON: Who is your favorite opera character?

AS: Cliché, I suppose, but probably Brünnhilde. I like superheroines, I guess.

ON: What is it about opera that most appeals to you?

AS: The complete sensory-emotional experience. Opera to me is full-immersion humanity: the intensity of it penetrates the mind and heart through our ears and eyes.

ON: When and where do you like to listen to music?

AS: When designing, I almost always listen to classical music. One of my favorite things is to be alone in my studio on a Saturday and work along to a live Met radio broadcast.

ON: What’s the most striking opera costume you’ve seen?

AS: Kenneth Pollard’s design for Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten in the ENO–LA Opera production jumps out in my mind as costume as art—visually dazzling and fascinating.

Something Else to Consider

Scarlett’s only designs for the opera stage so far were for Fort Worth’s With Blood, With Ink and Juilliard’s Calisto, but he finds the idea of more costume work enticing. “[Costuming] helps guide the performer into the mind and mood of the character and can suggest to an actor how they can move,” he says. “In my eyes, of course, opera and drama are intrinsically linked with style, art and design. I’d love to design something like Ballo in Maschera, Contes d’Hoffmann or a fantasy like Zauberflöte. A full Ring cycle would be amazing!” spacer

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