Obituary: Costume Designer & Set Designer Ezio Frigerio Dies at 91

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: © Marasco)

On Feb. 2, 2022, Italian costume designer and art director, Ezio Frigerio died at the age of 91.

Born on July 16, 1930, Frigerio studied architecture and later went to the theater to design costumes. Throughout his early years, he became a student of painter Mario Radice and followed that up by designing costumes for “Casa di Bambola” and “L’opera da 3 soldi,” two plays directed by Giorgio Strehler at Piccolo Teatro during the 1955-56 season. That would begin his working relationship with Strechler, with whom he would collaborate for decades.

Together they collaborated on unique productions as “I giganti della montagna,” “Santa Giovanna dei macelli,” “Re Lear,” “Il temporal,” and  “L’Illusion Comique,” among others.

In 1963 he began a long-term relationship with designer Franca Squarciapino and the two began working together in over 400 theatrical productions.

The two designed for such filmmakers as Vittorio de Sica, Liliana Cavani, and Bernardo Bertolucci. He went on to obtain an Oscar nomination for Art Direction for his work on “Cyrano de Bergerac” while Squarciapino won Best Costume Design.

In opera, Frigerio united with Strehler on productions of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Don Giovanni” and “Così fan tutte.” All three operas were produced between 1973 and 1996.

He also collaborated on productions of Cherubini’s “Medea,” directed by Liliana Cavani, for the Opéra National de Paris; Strauss’ “Elektra,” directed by Nuria Espert, for De Munt Theatre in Brussels; Verdi’s “Ernani,” directed by Luca Ronconi; Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” directed by Werner Herzog for the Teatro alla Scala in Milan; and Bellini’s “Norma,” directed by Piero Faggioni, for the Vienna State Opera.

At the Metropolitan Opera, Frigerio and Squarciapiano designed the production of Zandonai’s “Francesca da Rimini,” which was later televised and starred Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo.

At the Teatro Real, he designed productions of “Manon” and “Les Contes d’Hoffmann ” as well as “Falstaff” and “Madama Butterfly,” among others.  Among some of his last productions were “La casa de Bernarda Alba” at the Teatro de la Zarzuela.

In a statement, the Teatro alla Scala mourned the loss of Frigerio noting, “La Scala mourns the loss of Ezio Frigerio, active for more than 50 years in drama theatre, opera, ballet, and cinema, a role model of Italian culture of the twentieth century: a set designer who was able to leave his influence on the productions of all the great directors he has worked with, from Strehler to Ronconi, from Liliana Cavani to Graham Vick, from Bertolucci to Rappeneau.

The company added, “He began his collaboration with Giorgio Strehler at the Piccolo Teatro in 1955 and in the same year he made his debut at La Scala designing the costumes for ‘Il matrimonio segreto’ on the occasion of the Piccola Scala’s opening. A very long and fruitful collaboration with La Scala followed, which led him to sign 32 productions, 8 of which inaugurated the Season: ‘Otello’ (1959), ‘Simon Boccanegra’ (1971 and 1978), ‘Falstaff’ (1980), ‘Lohengrin’ (1981), ‘Ernani’ (1982), ‘Don Giovanni’ (1987), ‘Fidelio’ (1990 and Dec. 7, 1999), ‘Otello’ (2001).”

He is survived by his life partner Squarciapiano.