Don Quixote was published in the early 17th century by Spanish author Cervantes, and since then the story of the gentleman from La Mancha has inspired many adaptations in opera, ballet, and movies. Each adaptation has been imbued with ideas and interpretations characteristic of the time period in which they were conceived, and Telemann’s Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho, composed in 1761 Hamburg, is certainly no exception to the rule. Haymarket Opera Company’s aim is to perform 17th and 18th century works as they would have been presented at their creation, and thus my goal was to create the type of costumes that a German audience of the time would have seen.
Paintings, engravings, and figurines depicting the adventures of Don Quichotte and Sancho Panza were an important source of information to me. Coypel’s, Natoire’s, and Hogarth’s works constituted a solid base to understand the vision 18th century European artists had about the Spanish Golden Age and its ideals of chivalry. These pieces of art were rather full of anachronism: sixteenth century fashion was generously mixed with the current trends as are the costumes you’ll see tonight! For instance, doublets, trunk-hose with cod-piece, and mustaches and beards stand together with tricorns, sack dress, paniers and freshly shaved rosy cheeks. Also, the fashion accessory expressly used to adorn Spanish characters was undoubtedly the neck ruff. More than a clue for a specific time frame, it was particularly attributed to Spanish people, as shown for instance on engravings depicting Commedia dell’Arte’s figure of Il Capitano, usually a Spaniard captain with a disproportioned neck ruff. Cervantes’s indications on the characters’ look was followed by me as well, but in a soft palette closer to rococo masters’s paintings than earlier tastes for darker colors.
The attempts at costume authenticity visible on 18th century paintings are, indeed, to be taken with precaution when it comes to stage representations. In Germany, and particularly in Hamburg, it was not until the 1770s that historical reconstruction became common for theater plays; early calls for authentic stage costumes, which started in the 1740s, resulted in critics’ attacks and mockery, the taste for conventionalized stage costumes along French lines being still too strong. The slowness of theater to immerse into historical milieu can be also explained by the modest budgets of companies composed by strolling players, who were often responsible for providing their own costumes. In opera houses and court entertainments with more money, the taste for historical costuming possibly began earlier, as costume sketches from the court at Dresden, seem to show us, but again, it was more an allusion to a certain time period than a thorough work of reconstitution.