Los Angeles Opera Gets Into Costume-Shop Biz

Until June, the Los Angeles Opera relied on the Center Theatre Group costume shop--where the Mark Taper Forum and Doolittle Theatre are wardrobed--for services. But when that operation was downscaled, the opera company opened its own costume shop in the refurbished Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery downtown. Now, says costume director Kristine Haugan, there’s space for the 500 pairs of shoes and boots that have piled up over the course of several seasons. She calls it “the Imelda Marcos room.”

During the weeks leading up to opening night, costume designer Peter J. Hall sees to dozens of last-minute details for “La Boheme,” while Haugan supervises costumes for “A Masked Ball,” which are on loan from the Royal Opera in London. The two productions will be performed in repertory throughout the month at the Music Center.

Here’s a look at what goes on inside the costume shop:

Paperwork: “ ‘Masked Ball’ is the biggest show we’ve had from anywhere,” Haugan says. “There are about 300 costumes. Some people change four times. It’s important to know that what was sent is received. Then we note the size of each costume by individually measuring it.”


Fittings: “We measure each chorus member and match them with a costume. Our chorus is the tallest anywhere--10 men are 6-foot-3 and over. American men’s shoulders are much more developed. . . . That can present problems. We had to build eight new sets of costumes.”

Costume Copies: “We look through the principals to see what kinds of changes might be needed. One of my duties is to maintain integrity of the original costume design. Then a cutter-draper or a tailor builds it. We have one and we’re making 13 new principal costumes.”

Sizing the Supernumeraries: “Supernumeraries are all those people around the stage who are soldiers, servants or sailors. They don’t sing. Basically, if you fit the costume, you got the part.”

Footwear: “Footwear is one of the biggest headaches of opera. The first two shows are going to have 400 pairs of shoes between them. A lot of it we have, but the rest is made and shopped. We’ve found a man in Nova Scotia who does wonderful period footwear. We heard about him through someone at the Ashland Shakespeare festival.”


Transfer: “The design assistant writes the dressing sheet, which tracks every item of costume, when it’s worn. Then everything’s shipped to the Music Center.”

Dress Rehearsal: “That’s when I might see a hem that isn’t quite straight, for example. Or the director could want to make a change. It’s a time for fine-tuning.”

Opening Night: “The hour the show opens, wardrobe department (at the Music Center) takes over and keeps it till the show closes. They do a lot of laundry there and sew on buttons, but if a costume is destroyed or damaged, or if a singer gets sick and is replaced, then the costume comes back to us.”