A STITCH IN TIME ... ensures show will go on at Lyric, where dozens work backstage

You will be able to buy tickets to the Lyric Opera's 55th season starting Monday. That season begins Sept. 26 with "Tosca" and continues with "Faust," "Ernani," "Katya Kabanova," "The Merry Widow," "The Elixir of Love" and "The Damnation of Faust" before concluding with "The Marriage of Figaro." Opera is often referred to as a spectacle for the eyes, and if you have never seen a Lyric production (or one from any of the other fine, if smaller, companies in the area, such as the Chicago Opera Theater), you owe yourself the display.But when you watch, realize the amount of work that goes into what you are seeing. To fully appreciate what it takes to make an opera, we went backstage at the Lyric. In Charles Osgood's photo, soprano Sherry Veal is getting the hem of her costume taken care of by wardrobe supervisor Lucy Lindquist, one of the dozens of behind-the-scenes people who are in preparation months before the season starts and busy all through it. Who do you imagine takes care of the more than 3,000 of loads of laundry necessary during a season? We know, and also discovered that some 15 gallons of detergent are used each season to launder all the T-shirts, socks, tights and dress shirts after each performance, while dresses and tuxedos are sent to the dry cleaner. It takes, we learned, a singer an hour to get into wig, makeup and costume, 90 minutes if there is full body makeup necessary. We learned a lot about wigs. They are all made of human hair, on average 4.5 ounces of it. The cost of the three wigs worn by Renee Fleming in 2002-03's "Thais" was $4,500, the most Lyric has paid to adorn one star's head. And there were, during the final scene of a production of "Manon Lescant," 123 wigs onstage at the same time, a record number. We learned that the beards and mustaches are made from yak hair from Tibet. "A yak-hair mustache keeps its bend," says Richard Jarvie, wig master and makeup designer. "There are about 12 million domesticated yaks. Because of their remote location, their hair costs nearly as much as humans'." Having all of this information and more (we once visited a room on the eighth floor of the Civic Opera House and saw enough fake spears, belts, swords, daggers, shields, breastplates, helmets, rifles, pistols, bows and arrows, crossbows and such one-of-a-kind items as a breakaway anvil to outfit a small army), Osgood and I wondered if our new knowledge might diminish the experience of seeing operas. After much discussion (well, not that much), we decided that knowing what goes on offstage would only enhance what is on it. So, during this Lyric season, we hope that when all those people behind the spectacle hear the applause, they will understand that some of it is for them. rkogan@tribune.com
Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood
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