Actéon, composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier in the 1680s, relates the Greek myth of Diana and the hunter Actéon, punished for gazing the modest goddess while she is bathing in the company of her nymphs.
The costume colors for this pastorale are inspired by paintings blending soft tones of green and brown, beige and rust, grey and light blue, like Andriessen’s “Arcadian Landscape” or Titian’s “Death of Actaeon”. The theme of animals and the hunt help to enhance the story, reflected in the use fabrics (animal patterns and textures), embellishments (trims of fur and feathers) and accessories ( pearls and other natural references).
The goddess Diana is generally represented through the ages with Greek dress and sandals, a moon tiara and a bow or a spear, and is often depicted with an animal skin and a baroque outfit with a notable Greek influence in portraits of 17th and 18th French court ladies “en Diane”. Thus, with these references in mind, our goddess of the hunt is wearing a mantua (fashionable gown from 1680s to Louis the XIVth’s death) made of a fawn-skin patterned velvet, while the sleeves, hairstyle and shoes are directly influenced by the Greek aesthetic. This mix of Greek and baroque style is also found in the nymphs’ costumes, the cut being primarily inspired by a statue of Diane from Château de Versailles’ gardens.
During the hunt, these women wear forest-colored gowns and carry hunting weapons. However, their silhouettes take a more feminine look for the bathing scenes, while the colors go from the dark woods to light waters, to emphasize the fact Actéon will cast his glance on something he should not see. When the dresses are removed, delicate corsets, light chemises and aerial skirts are revealed, inspired by a costume sketch drawn by Louis the XIV’s designer, Jean Bérain (Costume de Diane) and a painting by Largillière (Femme en Diane), both from 1685.
Actéon and the hunters’ costumes are also based on paintings and opera costume sketches of the late 17th century: they carry quivers and bows, they wear doublets, breeches and tonnelets decorated with lambrequins shaped to suggest their arrows. In the theatrical spirit of the period, Actéon is transformed into a deer by a mask covering his face, as a poetic symbol of imprisonment in a new body, increasing his tragic destiny.
The last – and quite unexpected- character of this tragédie en musique is the goddess Juno. To show her supremacy, she appears in a style different from the rest of the group with her bodice and skirt made of a rich brocade, her big blood-colored cape and her flamboyant headdress.