Contents of late costume designer’s studio to be sold at auction

Michael Stennett, who died aged 74 in 2020, had worked in partnership with opera houses around the world.

11 February 2022

The contents of the studio of an artist who designed costumes for opera star Dame Joan Sutherland are to be sold at auction.

Michael Stennett, who died aged 74 in 2020, worked at his studio in Yoxford in Suffolk, where he designed costumes and sets and painted portraits, landscapes and still lifes.

Operatic soprano Dame Joan, who was described by Luciano Pavarotti as “the voice of the century”, praised Mr Stennett in her 1997 autobiography A Prima Donna’s Progress.

She wrote: “Although known for his splendid costume designs, Michael Stennett has always been very versatile, painting landscapes, still lifes and portraits.

“Indeed, his designs for the theatre often have the shape and visage of the interpreter of the character.”

Mr Stennett also created costumes for opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, English actor and politician Glenda Jackson, US actor and former fashion model Mia Farrow and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

Studio contents
The contents of the studio of Michael Stennett are to be sold (Cheffins/PA)

He had worked in partnership with opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera House in London and Drottningholm Court Theatre in Stockholm.

The collection is to be sold at auction at Cheffins in Cambridge on February 24.

It includes about 300 paintings and drawings by Mr Stennett, including costume designs for performances from 1967 to 1984 including Le Nozze di Figaro from the Australian Opera, Swan Lake from the Malmo Ballet, Julius Caesar from the English National Opera and Werther from the Royal Opera House.

The tiara and jewellery which he made for Glenda Jackson’s role in the BBC drama Elizabeth R, and the model on which it sat in his studio, are among the collection.

Brett Tryner, director at Cheffins, said: “Michael Stennett was one of the leading costume designers of the second half of the 20th century, and his work has been hugely influential on both stage and screen since his debut at The New Theatre, creating costumes for Anne Of Green Gables back in 1969.

“This collection is of historic importance to the world of opera and contains countless costume designs for some of the most famous performances which were seen from the 1960s until the 1990s.

“Mr Stennett’s studio was an absolute goldmine for costume and set design and whilst this was primarily what made him famous, he was also a prolific artist, creating hundreds of portraits, still lifes and landscapes, many of which will also be offered for sale.”

The net proceeds of the sale will go to the charity Historic Royal Palaces.

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