MARIA CALLAS – Part Three
Piero Tosi (1927- ) is an Italian costume designer, born in Florence, Italy. In the late 1940s, he studied at Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arti, under the guidance of painter Ottone Rosai. At the age of 20, Tosi landed his first professional job as costume assistant on a stage production of the classic Le chandelier. Soon after, Tosi met renowned stage and film director Luchino Visconti through school friend Franco Zeffirelli and worked as a costume assistant on Visconti’s 1949 Florentine production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. In 1951, Tosi moved to Rome, where he began his film career, scouring the streets to find clothes for star Anna Magnani to wear in Visconti’s neorealistic tale “Bellissima” (1952), the first of 12 films he made with the director. His second picture with Visconti, 1954’s “Senso”, marked Tosi’s period film debut and introduced audiences to his lush, sensual designs. “I believe,” he once stated, “that an actor’s costume has to mirror the character wearing it, and also life.” Tosi’s screen career took off in the 1960s with a string of critically acclaimed films, including Visconti’s “Rocco and his Brothers” (1960), “The Leopard” (1963) – for which he received his first Oscar nomination – and “The Damned” (1969); Vittorio De Sica’s comedy “Marriage Italian Style” (1964); the Peter Sellers farce “After the Fox” (1966); and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Medea” (1969), for which he designed ancient Greek apparel for diva Maria Callas.
In all of his designs, Tosi explored the “architecture of the body,” noting that “every eight years the human body changes completely.” Obsessed with the human form, Tosi worked to mold actor to costume as much as costume to actor. Sometimes, Tosi also designed the actor’s hair and makeup, striving for a complete and authentic look. For Visconti’s “Death in Venice” (1971), Tosi created almost 700 period costumes, representing a range of ages and types, and received his second Oscar nod for his efforts. Three more Oscar nominations followed: for the Visconti production “Ludwig” (1973), for the flashy, modern comedy “La Cage aux Follies” (1979, shared with Ambra Danon) and for Zeffirelli’s opera adaptation “La Traviata” (1982).
Tosi continued to design into the 2000s, and in 2003 received the Costume Designers Guild’s inaugural President’s Award. Today, he spends his time teaching his craft at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, happily sharing his remarkable visual memory, his passion for authentic detail and his special language of design with tomorrow’s young filmmakers. An Honorary Academy Award was given to Piero Tosi on November 16, 2013 after a career of fifty years as a costume designer, and with five Best Costume design nominations.
Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (1906–1976), was an Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, as well as a screenwriter. He is best known for his films The Leopard (1963) and Death in Venice (1971). During the years 1946 to 1960 he directed many celebrated productions of operas. Beginning when he directed a production at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala of “La vestale” in December 1954, his career included a famous revival of “La traviata” at La Scala in 1955 with Maria Callas and an equally famous Anna Bolena (also at La Scala) in 1957 with Callas.
Visconti’s direction of Bellini’s opera, “La Sonambula”, in 1955, was an early incarnation of what is now called a “concept” approach. The director insisted Maria Callas wear a dazzling white gown and her jewelry onstage, whilst playing a poor peasant girl. When Callas questioned this choice, Visconti famously responded:
“The audience is not paying to see a poor peasant girl. They are paying to see Maria Callas play a poor peasant girl.”
A significant 1958 Royal Opera House (London) production of Verdi’s five-act Italian version of “Don Carlos” (with Jon Vickers) followed, along with a “Macbeth” in Spoleto in 1958 and a famous black-and-white “Il trovatore” with scenery and costumes by Filippo Sanjust at the Royal Opera House in 1964. In 1966 Visconti’s luscious “Falstaff” for the Vienna State Opera conducted by Leonard Bernstein was critically acclaimed. On the other hand, his austere 1969 “Simon Boccanegra” with the singers clothed in geometrical costumes provoked controversy.
La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) is an opera semiseria in two acts, with music in the bel canto tradition by Vincenzo Bellini set to an Italian libretto by Felice Romani, based on a scenario for a ballet-pantomime written by Eugene Scribe and choreographed by Jean-Pierre Aumer called “La somnambule, ou L’arrivee d’un nouveau seigneur”. The first performance took place at the Teatro Carcano (it) in Milan on 6 March 1831.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Biography – Piero Tosi
Wikipedia: Piero Tosi
IMDb: Piero Tosi
Wikipedia: Luchino Visconti
Wikipedia: La sonnambula
More to read:
Silver Screen Modes: Who is Piero Tosi?
Opera Chic: Maria Callas’ Bling at the NYC MET