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The Dream of Valentino

Valentino fans are accustomed to seeing the master’s creations on the catwalk and the red carpet. But Mr. Valentino is no stranger to the stage: Not only has he designed for the ballet, but twenty years ago this month, his costumes for the world premiere production of the opera “The Dream of Valentino” made their debut at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.


Given the title, you might expect that Dominick Argento’s opera was paean to Mr. Valentino himself. Not so! “The Dream of Valentino” was a chronicle of the life of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino, known as “the Great Lover” in his time. The production was eagerly anticipated—the subject matter had all the operatic goods, spurned love and a tragic young demise playing out over a backdrop of flapper-era Hollywood decadence; composer Argento, meanwhile, was already a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the role of Valentino would be played by New York City Opera Company tenor Robert Brubaker.


The review in the Chicago Tribune on January 17, 1994 was one of many that singled out the production’s visual elements as key to its “thumping success.” “It’s sumptuous and sensual, with lush, fabulous art deco settings…and seductive period costumes (by modern-day couturier Valentino) to match.”


Mr. Valentino isn’t the only great fashion designer to have dabbled in opera. His costumes for “The Dream of Valentino” featured in the recent exhibition Il Teatro Alla Moda, which brought together couture opera costumes by a bevy of Italian designers, including Emanuel Ungaro and Gianni Versace.

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