Whilst the exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear opens at the V&A, countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński returns with conductor Oliver Zeffman to the Raphael Court with Rinaldo, a flamboyant drama of love and a lot of fearless furies.
Review by Zoltan Alexander
Fashioning Rinaldo / Trailer © video created by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
A WOMAN ONE DAY AND A MAN THE NEXT
Could Handel’s Rinaldo, gender-fluid menswear, underwear, 18th-century paintings, contemporary art, photography and Tilda Swinton’s Orlando be put together under one roof?
One has to admit that Music & Art cannot be looked at and enjoyed in an isolated manner nor can they be segregated from other forms of art. There is divine energy when Art and Music juxtapose and interact with each other. The V&A has mastered that on many occasions. It is one of the rare places where fine art, contemporary art, fashion, music and design live creatively together.
The gallery at a lower level is currently showing Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, based on the reflection on gender-fluid creativity in men's fashion, whilst the Raphael Court on the upper level gave a perfect frame to a classical concert: a fearless love affair of Handel’s Rinaldo and other baroque and contemporary pieces. There was an undeniable metamorphosis between the floors and art forms and will certainly be an undeniable crossover between music lovers reading fashion, and menswear enthusiasts discovering operas through a young countertenor breakdancer.
FASHION AND THE ART WHICH INSPIRED IT
We start with the exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, brilliantly curated by Rosalind McKever and Claire Wilcox, featuring a wild selection of art, costumes and photography from the 18th-century right up to today in an unprecedented and unchronological order.
Studies of particular periods of history indicate significant changes in men's fashion, such as 16th-century dress and costume in Shakespearean England, the 19th-century Aesthetic Movement, 20th-century counterculture and the current Metaculture phenomena. The entire perception of sexual orientation has been drastically challenged by the millennials and among the 19-year-olds of today, defining them as Gen-Z, where the lines between male and female are increasingly blurred.
The exhibition focuses on three key elements of menswear: underwear, extravagant regalia and the suit, displayed thematically across three galleries, creating the exhibition’s core themes: Undressed, Overdressed and Redressed. Each element flows rhythmically to the next, in a fascinating journey through history. Contemporary looks by young designers are displayed alongside their historical references, seamlessly blending with the past.
"We really wanted to show people the long history of changing ideas of masculinity." Curator Rosalind McKever
On the opening night, the chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Nicholas Coleridge, gave a green light to the rhythm generated by much-anticipated musician/DJ Mark Ronson. We walked down to the exhibition, passing classical sculptures by Rodin and paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola (Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese, 1560), Joshua Reynolds (Portrait of Charles Coote the Earl of Bellomont, 1773), Kehinde Wiley (Portrait of Alexander Cassatt, 2017), video installations with choreographer Matthew Bourne, and a short extract from Sally Porter’s film Orlando (1992), in which Tilda Swinton appears in the bejewelled masculine dress of the Elizabethan court, created by award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell.
“The world always will be with a male or female, the pink, the pearl and the perfection of your sex.” Orlando
There were vintage and contemporary photographs by Cecil Beaton, David Hockney, Zanele Muholi and Omar Victor Diop. Diop’s image from his 2014 Diaspora series shines a light on the often-forgotten African figures seen in European portraiture from the 15th-century onwards. In his photograph, he casts himself as Haitian politician Jean-Baptiste Belley, uniting contemporary references with historical costumes and poses.
"We're seeing such creativity, excitement and diversity in menswear but also a shift within fashion to thinking differently about gender." Rosalind McKever
For the rest of the exhibition, thematically organised vitrines show a brilliant selection of the work of upcoming and well-known menswear designers including Alessandro Michele for Gucci, Harris Reed, Craig Green, Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Rick Owens, including a custom-made Randi Rahm suit with a full-length heavily embroidered cloak and hot pink lining worn by Billy Porter for the 2019 Golden Globes. The final, mirrored room presents a black tuxedo gown from the 2019 Oscars, also worn by Billy Porter, followed by a Gucci dress for the cover of American Vogue, worn by Harry Styles.
“In a patriarchal society, masculine gender-identity is often moulded by violently toxic and suffocating stereotypes. It’s time to celebrate a man who is free to practice self-determination, without authoritarian sanctions and social constraints." Alessandro Michele for Gucci
Creativity. It’s what makes us Human directed by Georgia Hudson / choreographer Max Cookward
A magical journey through the V&A celebrating the transformative power of creativity in all its forms.
A FLAMBOYANT DRAMA OF LOVE
Our walk continued upstairs in the Raphael Court. This gallery currently houses seven full-scale designs painted for the Raphael Cartoons, commissioned in 1515 for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, where the first set of tapestries was woven from Raphael’s designs. The cartoons are considered one of the greatest treasures of the Renaissance.
Following his graduation at Juilliard, New York, in 2017, Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński, an exclusive artist on the Warner/Erato label, has quickly emerged as one of the most vibrant performers on the classical music scene. His sold-out concerts and recitals throughout Europe and the United States have attracted a new generation of followers to his art form. He debuted with Handel and Vivaldi, at Carnegie Hall, and another production of Rinaldo served as his UK operatic debut at the Glyndebourne Festival.
Following his immense success in 2018 at the Barbican, in 2022 Orliński returned to the V&A’s Raphael Court with internationally renowned conductor Oliver Zeffman for a one-night special concert, inspired by the exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear. The opening concert was also part of the Music X Museums series, an innovative collaboration involving a number of major London museums.
Known for his pioneering spirit and inspiring vision with live and digital audiences, Oliver Zeffman directs the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields in this new series of concerts at the V&A, the British Library, the Science Museum and the Royal Museums in Greenwich. Music X Museums combines carefully chosen masterpieces of classical and contemporary music inspired by Art and Architecture, to be enjoyed worldwide in live and digital format.
“After more than two years of such precarious cultural activity, it's more important than ever for different art forms and different art institutions to be working together to bring exciting cultural events to the public, in this case pairing great music with great art and architecture” Oliver Zeffman
The participating London museums, alongside the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Viking and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, seem to share the same vision.
The repertoire at the V&A, put together by Zeffman, included excerpts from Handel’s Rinaldo, Partenope and Riccardo Primo, as well as Cavalli’s La Calisto and Stravinsky’s neoclassical Apollo. Music by Lully, Stravinsky and contemporary composer Caroline Shaw has also been selected to reflect on the exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear and its core themes: Undressed, Overdressed and Redressed.
I LOVE YOU
I LOATHE YOU
It all started in Hamburg when Handel began to compose operas, and towards the end of 1710, he reached London. Rinaldo was the first opera in Italian written specifically for the London stage. He accomplished the work within the space of a fortnight. The opera is considered one of Handel’s finest and was first staged at the Queen's Theatre, Haymarket, in 1711. It is a perfect remake, a musical patchwork, as Handel borrowed extensively from his earlier compositions, particularly those from his years in Italy.
The novel Italian singing style with its arias, recitatives and orchestral effects won immediate success. Despite the typical, negative reactions from literary critics, hostile to Italian entertainment in English theatres, the audience loved the theatrical effects, the mermaids, the flying machines and the live sparrows. Rinaldo went on to dominate opera in England for several decades and was the most frequently performed music during Handel's lifetime. However, after 1731, the opera was not staged for more than 200 years.
Handel’s compositions invite singers to show off their flexibility and range at a daring speed. In most concert halls, operas are being performed in strict concert style with no acting, and although at the V&A there were no mermaids nor theatrical effects, in front of a 15th-century golden altarpiece of St George, Orliński gave a hypnotic performance with his unique understanding of the opera. Rinaldo is a flamboyant drama of love, witchcraft, and a lot of fearless furies, not to mention the pretty outrageous plot. After several unbelievable turns in the tale, the usual happy ending is delivered. It has a twisted Baroque style, although the opera crowd did not seem to mind it and rather enjoyed all that nonsense.
...and here we enter a magical world where opera meets film.
Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater directed by Sebastian Pańczyk with the participation of countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński and Capella Cracoviensis. © Released by Warner Classics & Erato 2022
At the V&A, Orliński perfectly mastered Cara Sposa from Rinaldo, supported by a period-instrument orchestra. His velvet-toned, though razor-sharp, voice was mesmerising and, on occasions, hit such heights that Raphael’s gods, angels and warriors of the Acts of the Apostles literally came to life. Zeffman’s direction was splendid, a divine arrangement, and Jakub Józef Orliński virtuoso!
Well-grounded with himself, Orliński is definitely winning a reputation as an artist of striking vocal beauty and daring stagecraft. Bravo!