A group of people in 1950s beach attire at a party

Interview: Gabriela Tylesova

The set and costume designer on the colourful playground of The Turk in Italy

A parade of beach-goers

Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo and the Opera Australia Chorus in Opera Australia's production of The Turk in Italy.

Gabriela Tylesova was fresh out of NIDA’s School of Costume Design when she was plucked from obscurity to design Simon Phillips’ hilarious production of The Elixir of Love for the country’s largest performing arts organisation: Opera Australia.

Fast forward several years and the pair have become frequent collaborators, with Tylesova’s larger-than-life designs providing a brilliant canvas for the skilled director’s gift for comedy.

The flamboyant partnership was a perfect fit for The Turk in Italy, a sparkling, fast-moving farce set in an Italian seaside town. The comedy zips along using mistaken identities and lots of love triangles to tell a tale of love and lust, tricks and trysts.

“There is lots of space for jokes in the libretto,” the designer says. “It’s a silly, funny piece, so we were able to play with that feeling in the set.”

When it came to designing the set, it started to evolve like a massive sculpture, Tylesova explains. It’s all built on a massive double revolve, so the set can transform into multiple settings without the need to pause for a set change.  That choice was guided by the music, Tylesova says. “The music moves really quickly, so we wanted to be able to do set changes really fast.”

Phillips moved the action to the 1950s, giving Tylesova the opportunity to revel in the bright colours and dramatic silhouettes of the period.  “It’s not a true 1950s restoration piece,” Tylesova explains. “It’s a stylised look, so we can play with prints and patterns and colours and shapes.”

A sketch of a woman in a 1950s style orange polka dot bathing dress

A costume sketch for one of the beach girls in The Turk in Italy, by designer Gabriela Tylesova. Photo: Aidan Corrigan

The opera opens on a beach and the designer had a lot of fun choosing beach balls, goggles and flippers as accessories for the sunbathers that open the show.

She designed a range of swimwear that would be at home in any vintage revival store, with cinched waists, fluttery bathing skirts and wispy beach capes. “The great thing about the 1950s is that swimwear was very flattering,” she says. “I can control the shape with boning.”

While the shapes are native to the period, Tylesova avoided the pastel palette of the 50s in favour of bold colours and oversized patterns. To get just the right feel, Tylesova designed many of the patterns herself and arranged to have them printed on fabrics.

Even the house is complete with 1950s kitchen appliances and other details. 

“I wanted really bold colours, a really bold world,” Tylesova explains. The designer has gone beyond the oft-used La Dolce Vita look of theatre set in the 1950s, appropriating familiar symbols of pop culture and classic films to create a world that is genuinely larger than life.

The painted faces and striped outfits of Federico Fellini’s mime artists inspired a motley monochromatic look for a travelling band of gypsies, and the iconic looks of pop stars Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe light up the stage in a very different take on a masked ball.

It all adds up to a colourful romp through a bygone era: bright pink and green suits, purple satins and outlandish checks on the men, while jewel-tone blues and deep vermillion dresses provide striking looks for the principal women.


Words by Jennifer Williams
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