Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Hum of Sewing Machines and the Clip of Scissors...

Many do not know that most of the costumes you see on stage are created in the Houston Grand Opera Wardrobe Department which makes its home in the basement of the theater. Even if a show is rented from another opera company most of the beautiful costumes that accompany the production must either be altered or completely recreated (according to designers specifications as to material and design). Of the six operas in the 2008-09 season at HGO, three are “new build” productions (Chorus!, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Andre Previn's world premiereBrief Encounter). A “new build” production is one in which everything you see on stage, from the amazing sets to the beautiful costumes and every tiny prop, will be brand new (nothing borrowed and nothing rented. This means that the HGO wardrobe department is in ultra-high gear and has been for months. With over 600 costumes for Chorus! alone, (the biggest costumed show in HGO history) all being created from working sketches and miles of fabric hand chosen by costume designers, you can bet that the department is a well oiled machine of creativity and talent.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will take the audience to a fantastic forest where the fairy kingdom intermixes with the human world. The fairies, all 25 of them, will be costumed in stretch body suits made of a paisley patterned slinky knit and then hand painted to look like a full body tattoo. The body suits, which are measured to the exact fit of the singer, take more than two hours to cut out to insure that the paisley pattern matches at the seams. The costumes will then take another 2 hours to sew and 4 hours to hand paint. That’s 8 hours for each costume for a grand total of 200 hours just for the fairies!!









Chorus! costumes line the halls of the huge Wortham basement like a storeroom for Macy’s. From blue shiny zoot suits to poofy polka dotted skirts this show will run the gamut of musical theater and the costumes are there to prove it. Costumes for Tales of Hoffman intermix with those of Carousel and Candide.

The photos below show the progress of the Russian coats for the scene from Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina from bolts of grey upholstery fabric to a finished coat ready for fitting. Also sketch and finished costume from





















Here is a sketch and finished costume that will be used in Chorus! from a scene from Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.





















The racks of costumes multiply daily and are beginning to fill the dressing rooms as well. It’s definitely a busy, yet exciting time for the HGO wardrobe department.


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