One Woman, Many Costumes

Back to Notes From Valhalla

By Daveda Karanas (Waltraute, Second Norn & Fricka cover)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas is a former Adler Fellow who we welcome back to the fold this summer to sing two roles and cover another in the Ring. Several weeks ago she sang a Schwabacher Debut Recital at Temple Emanu-el which featured, among other things, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. These days she is keeping busy in staging rehearsals, music rehearsals and costume fittings for her roles as Waltraute (Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung), the Second Norn (Götterdämmerung) and as the cover for Fricka (Rheingold and Die Walküre).
 
I first became involved in San Francisco Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen back in 2008 in Francesca Zambello’s production of Das Rheingold.
Then, as a first year Adler Fellow, I had the wonderful opportunity to cover Fricka. As a cover, your job is to be prepared at every rehearsal and performance in case for any reason the artist cannot perform. Just like the main stage artists, cover artists also have costumes. It would be dreadful to step into a role without the proper garments!
 
Now, three years later I am back to perform several roles in the Ring cycle and I will be covering Fricka again. In Das Rheingold, Fricka’s costume is reminiscent of the early 1900’s. A billowy cream long-sleeved blouse with large lapels is fitted with a high-waisted ankle-length skirt and her shoes are black Victorian-style boots. Her jewelry is understated and refined. There is a simple elegance about her costume. There is also feeling of being tall, stately, strong, sophisticated and feminine. [Right: Jennifer Larmore as Fricka in 2008's Das Rheingold. Photo by Terrence McCarthy]
 
In Die Walküre, I am both covering Fricka and singing Waltraute, one of the Valkyries. The production is now set in the 1940’s in the midst of the big boom of industrialism. Valhalla is completed and they—Wotan and Fricka—have been living there for years. Fricka’s costume and views have changed through the passage of time. She is more conscious of her prominent social standing and her clothes reflect that. Her costume is top of the line and made with rich fabrics and beading. She obviously wants to be seen and heard. [Left: Janina Baechle as Fricka with Mark Delavan as Wotan in 2010's Die Walküre. Photo by Cory Weaver]
 
As for Waltraute, she is one of the nine Valkyries, the daughter warriors of Wotan. Waltraute, whose name means “Mighty in Battle,” is just that—a mighty warrior or, in this production, a fighter pilot. The Valkyrie costumes are replicas of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) uniforms. In lieu of horses, each Valkyrie jumps out of a plane and makes their descent to the rendezvous point. Waltraute’s costume is a khaki jumpsuit with calf-high leather boots, gloves, a leather helmet, a cream-colored scarf and goggles. I first debuted this character last summer, in 2010’s Die Walküre, but my costume this time will be somewhat different. I’ve been made a brand new jumpsuit because I’ve lost over 85 pounds since the last production and there are some other wonderful additions to the costume. We are now being fitted with leather harnesses, which were “attached” to our parachutes. My jumpsuit has a wonderful (fake) fur collar and some great leather detailing. You can’t help but feel strong, manly, and ready to take on any situation in this costume. [Right: Karanas as Waltraute with fellow Valkyries in 2010. Photo by Terrence McCarthy]
 
In Götterdämmerung I am debuting two new characters—Second Norn and Waltraute. The Second Norn, one of three sisters, has the daunting challenge of reading the rope of destiny and to share this knowledge of the world. She and her two sisters spend their days engrossed in this tiring task. In this production, Götterdämmerung is set in the near future. You encounter the three Norns on a dark set with numerous computer/telephone cables all over the stage. They are industrial workers and are strong, tough and ready to take on their task. Zambello’s idea is to have their mannerisms and characters be similar to old Russian workers. Since I come from a Greek background, this wasn’t a big stretch for me in my character analysis. The Norn costumes are postdated. Norns have no concept of time—only what is shown to them by the ropes of destiny. All three of us are wearing the same costume—a sort of Norn uniform. They are bright emerald green calf-length smocks with black aprons, large black rubber gloves, black clunky worker boots, tinted goggles and a bright emerald green cap. The knowledge of destiny can be toxic and hazardous and our costumes show that we need to protect ourselves from such elements. [Karanas at her costume fitting for the Second Norn]
 
As for Waltraute’s return in Götterdämmerung, she is still a Valkyrie, even though Wotan has disbanded the female army. Since Brünnhilde was exiled and sent to sleep on a rock surrounded by fire, Waltraute has stepped up in the ranks to first in command. She firmly believes that the Valkyrie army will reconcile and shows her loyalty by continuing to wear her uniform—her khaki jumpsuit. However, since the Valkyries no longer set out to battle, she has put away her leather helmet and goggles. In haste, she secretly leaves Valhalla to find Brünnhilde for help. She wears a long leather coat over her jumpsuit to protect her from the outside elements of the long journey.
 
Costuming is an important element to any production. It’s the final touch that helps the character come alive. As a multi-character artist for this monumental production, it helps immensely to have such dramatic and wonderful costumes. The costumes allow me to take on the persona of the character and to literally walk in their shoes.