Diva of design

By Susan DeMaggio

Lifestyles Editor

Among the design projects bearing a Zandra Rhodes signature are couture and ready-to-wear collections; cosmetic lines; jewelry sets; bed linens and household textiles; Terrazzo creations; a fanciful group of wellies, tepees and tents; and the costume and set designs for three operas.

The prolific British textile artist, a resident of Del Mar with a studio in the Cedros Design District of Solana Beach, will share the creative process behind her work on the opera "Aida" in a onetime exhibition titled "Verdi's 'Aida' Through the Eyes of Zandra Rhodes" from April 10-May 15 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla.

The exhibit will offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look at her sketchbooks, costume drawings and eight of the finished outfits. Rhodes said she spent about 2 1/2 years working on more than 150 costumes for "Aida," commissioned by the Opera Pacific before it closed in 2008. Funding was picked up by the Houston Grand Opera Company.

"I hope visitors will be enchanted enough by the exhibit to want to go see 'Aida' when it plays at the San Francisco Opera in September," Rhodes said.

There will be a free, public reception to open the exhibition from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 9. Athenaeum Director Erika Torri called the show a perfect fit for the library and its mission of presenting events that are art- and music-related.

"Zandra is a longtime friend, and I follow her creations closely," Torri said. "She has designed the costumes for the 'Magic Flute' and the costumes and sets for the 'Pearl Fishers' here in San Diego. The Athenaeum exhibited the costumes and sketches from the previous operas, so it was without question that we would offer Zandra an exhibition for the 'Aida' work, once it became available.

"It will be a colorful, enjoyable and over-the-top exhibition, and if it is anything like our last ones, I am certain it will be one to remember. "

Rhodes explained that her concepts for the sets and costumes of "Aida" originated from a trip she made to Egypt in 1986. She said she was fascinated with Egypt's color palette of turquoise, gold, orange and ultramarine; the spectacular jewelry; and the pleated, figure-hugging dresses of the pharaohs. Her travel sketches became the basis for a collection of fabric prints in her 1987 spring/summer show.

She drew more inspiration from trips to the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Metropolitan Museum of Art and the sketches of Egypt commissioned by Napoleon.

"To work on an opera allows me to have my designs combined with music, and that is something quite special," she said, adding that she might like to tackle "Tourandot" or "Salome" next.

In connection with the exhibition in the Athenaeum's Main and Rotunda galleries, Rhodes will give a lecture on her trip to Egypt and her creative process for "Aida" in the Athenaeum's Joan & Irwin Jacobs Music Room at 7:30 p.m. April 20. Another program for young professionals is being planned for 7:30 p.m. April 29.

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