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Wimbledon's Der Rosenkavalier featured in Opera Now

Designs by final year BA Costume Opera magazine banner
Designs by final year BA Costume Opera magazine banner
Designs by final year BA Costume Opera magazine banner 2019
Written by
John Wallace
Published date
12 July 2019

Designs for opera Der Rosenkavalier by final year BA Costume for Theatre and Screen students, have been featured in Opera Now. The students, under the direction of Course Leader Kevin Freeman, created a set of costumes which were inspired by the now legendary Glyndebourne staging from 1980, produced by John Cox under the musical direction of a very youthful Sir Simon Rattle.

Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose or The Rose-Bearer Op. 59) is a comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss. The opera is set to an original German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and premiered in 1911. Contemporary critics might point that a haunting score coupled with a libretto that sensitively examines themes of unrequited love, sacrifice, and ageing, cannot hide the fact that Der Rosenkavalier is essentially about two teenagers who need to extricate themselves as the love interests of the older characters. However, an early twentieth century public embraced the opera and its story lines unconditionally and Der Rosenkavalier became Strauss' most popular opera during his lifetime. It remains a staple of operatic repertoire today.

Erté, Glyndebourne and Der Rosenkavalier

One of the most revered stagings of all time has to be a 1980 production presented by Glyndebourne with designs by Erté.

Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), also known as Erté, was a Russian-born French artist and designer whose pseudonym comes from the French pronunciation of the letters of his initials. Over his long career, he worked in fashion, jewellery, graphic arts, costume and set design for films, theatre and opera. Erté is one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. Kevin Freeman counts Erté as a major influence on his own work: “His strong graphic style of illustration, bold use of colour and clean lines was one of the main reasons I chose to study at Wimbledon in the first instance."

When Glyndebourne unveiled the designs the artist had created for its 1980 production of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, it was considered a tremendous coup and in fact a cloth bound book of the designs was released to mark the event. Kevin recalls,

“I remember the excitement that finding this book caused me – and also the anxiety caused by spending £65 from my student grant. However, the book has been with me ever since, surviving countless house moves and various natural disasters and remains one of my prized possessions.”


Der Rosenkavalier revisited

Glyndebourne recently staged an exhibition devoted to Erté’s original designs and Kevin presented the original sketches to his final year students to see if they could breathe new life into them. Visits to the archive at Glyndebourne resulted in an introduction to John Cox, the producer. He then came to Wimbledon to give a talk to students about the production, and to set a challenge...

The brief to students was to take the work of Erté (an artist associated with the 1920s) who had presented a romanticised view of an 1850s silhouette for a 1980s aesthetic, and update this for a contemporary audience.

All the students' creations were exhibited at Wimbledon's degree show. Check out a gallery of all the costumes here.

The full article by Kevin Freeman, BA Costume for Theatre and Screen course leader can be found in the July 2019 edition of Opera Now.

Top image:  Annina in Disguise, Liv Burnage; Candelabra by Deborah Wilkins; Valzacchi by Emma Neville

All images by Ali Wright Photography.