This is Haymarket Opera Co.’s biggest show to date in term of costumes, so let me explain you how we bring a show like this to life and reveal a few « behind the seams » secrets!
After reading and analyzing the libretto, the historical research begins. I collect clues from different sources, like fashion books focusing on the decade of interest, museum collections of paintings and academic research about opera costumes. Everything you’ll see on stage, from headpieces to shoes, is inspired by late 17th century French costume designs.
Further in the design process, other parameters are also taken in account. For instance, there are several quick changes in Ariane et Bachus, and appropriate choices would make them work smoothly backstage. For each opera, we reuse some pieces of costumes from previous ones. If you’re a regular audience member of Haymarket Opera Company, you might recognize some of them! Once this is decided, fabric swatches are collected. I have a “love and hate” relationship with that step as sometimes the fabrics found are above my expectations and can bring new ideas, and sometimes, there is nothing like I imagined (specially when working with brocades) and I have to review my choices. To multiply the options, I always look at the wrong side of the fabric: it can be more interesting!
Before drawing the final costume sketches, drafts are discussed with the costume shop to establish a budget and the designs are then re-defined if needed. Once it’s all set, I go for many trips to the fabric stores where hundreds of pounds of fabrics will be bought. I work now for a couple of years with Chicago Custom Costumes, a small atelier located in the Fine Art Building. They build the majority of the new costume pieces. During the first fitting, we try on the performers a mockup in muslin to make sure the fit is good and the proportions are true to the designs. During the second fitting, the real fabrics are cut and assembled, and we discuss the details and make sure the fit is perfect.
In parallel, I work with one or two costume technicians on some new pieces and on the costumes that need to be recycled and modified to suit the new performer. Although a lot of work, the costumes are originally made to facilitate those alterations: there are in general a couple of inches of extra fabric hidden in the side seams and shoulders and after each productions, we keep in stock rests of the fabrics in case one day we need to proceed to some alterations. Besides that, the headdress maker, leather mask maker and Penny Lane Studios for make up and wigs are joining the team to make the rest of the design become a reality.
Before, during and after the shows, 7 persons (wardrobe, wig and make up team) are helping the singers and dancers to change in and out their characters. An opera that lasts 3 hours like Ariane & Bachus represents actually at least 5 to 6 hours of presence in the theater.