The Magic Is in the Numbers at the Opera Costume Shop

Costume Shop by the Numbers

By Shell Amega

Tucked deep into the urban folds near the downtown Los Angeles Flower Mart lies another blossoming beauty: the LA Opera Costume Shop.

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, LA Opera Costume Director Jenny Green welcomed a special group of Opera League volunteers and donors for a behind-the-scenes tour of this extraordinary and amazing enterprise. League members observed a colorful wonderland of period costumes and accessories, ranging from basic corsets and petticoats to exotic Spanish matador hats and a chorus of furry black wolf heads. The LA Opera Costume Shop resembles a cross between a massive clothing warehouse and a vibrant working boutique holding what Jenny called costume “stock.”

The entire operation is meticulously organized under Jenny’s management and is eco-conscious as well. Costume items from “dead productions” (opera productions never to be staged again) are broken down and repurposed for other productions or storage. Through stylish cuts, dyes and ornaments, shop craft experts and designers can revive select costumes and breathe new life into them for an upcoming production. Some even make it into public life through the occasional costume shop sales, three of which have taken place to date.

To get a glimpse of Jenny and her Costume Shop team in action, check out this behind-the-scenes snippet as they were prepping The Ghosts of Versailles in 2015.

During our visit, Jenny noted that the shop works on between four and six productions at any one time, including costumes from the current opera onstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one in rehearsal, one being prepared to travel for production rentals, and a new opera entering next season’s schedule.

Not every opera production’s costumes are housed at the shop as there are perhaps another 50 productions kept in an off-site facility in Gardena.

Garments and other costume paraphernalia hang on double-stacked rows of racks from the two-story ceiling down to shoulder height. The numbers are as astounding as the items are dazzling.

Herein we present the LA Opera Costume Shop by the numbers. Behold.

  • 1,000 pairs of footwear – shoes, slippers and boots
  • 1,000 rolls of fabric wall-to-wall in a 24,000 square foot space
  • 400 blazers
  • 500 petticoats – styled with lace, and bagged tulle. “We use petticoats time and time again, and for some reason they are always identified by the show they were originally made for and not by the period of the garment,” says Jenny. “We have Elixir [of Love] petticoats, Don Carlo petticoats, Lohengrin petticoats and so on. The opera name creates a visual for us that just a period date would not.”
  • 200 hats – top hats, short ones, long ones, berets and matadors
  • 200 belts
  • 150 corsets
  • 100 capes and capelets
  • 70 body forms of humps, humpbacks, pregnant bumps and bum-rolls for rear-end hoops and padding
  • 50 bloomers–lacy, short, long and plain
  • “Plácido’s Closet” of more than 20 costumes from Don Carlo, Lucia di Lammermoor, Otello and more
  • 50 flying harnesses
  • 500 pairs of gloves
  • 20 feather boas
  • 20 Spanish veils
  • 12 wolf heads
  • 6 sets of medieval armor

Click here to view the Costume Shop tour photos.

Author: Thomas Lady

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