Costume Exhibition Goes Behind the Seams at The Dallas Opera

"The Fabric of Opera: The Winspear World Premieres" is on display at NorthPark Center through November 6

For the second year in a row, some of the most innovative fashion at NorthPark Center are costumes from The Dallas Opera.

"People are always mesmerized by costumes because costume is still a form of fashion," Carrie Ellen Adamian, The Dallas Opera's Director of Marketing and Ticket Sales, said. "The Fabric of Opera: The Winspear World Premieres" is now on display on Level One of the Dallas shopping center near Neiman Marcus and Dolce & Gabbana through Nov. 6.

Karen Almond
Costumes from Becoming Santa Claus, a 2015 Dallas Opera world premiere.

This year's exhibition celebrates the ten-year anniversary of the opera company's home, the Winspear Opera House, by showcasing costumes from the operas that made their world premiere at The Dallas Opera in the last decade. Four operas are represented: "Moby-Dick" (2010), "Everest" (2015), "Great Scott" (2015), and "Becoming Santa Claus" (2015).

"The story that we're trying to tell here, aside from the new works, is how a new work is brought to life," Adamian said. "We're trying to show how that collaboration between librettist and composer brings these characters to life on stage."

These costumes are hard-working creations, supporting singers as they tell these new stories. Mountaineers climb mountain-like sets. Nineteenth century seafarers look as if they were ripped from the pages of an epic novel. Contemporary opera stars and fantastical inhabitants of the North Pole transport the audience to another world.

"You want people to look at what it is and go with the story," Dawn Rivard, a wig, hair and make-up designer with The Dallas Opera, said. "People have to believe it."

Bringing the costumes into a shopping center presents some challenges. A few pieces disappeared last year. Working with NorthPark Center, the opera company made some adjustments to ensure everything remains in place.

"We have really tacked it all down, so we don't anticipate any pieces going missing. But you live and learn," Adamian said. "This year, we took great measures to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Karen Almond
Costumes by Bob Crowley from the 2015 world premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott.

The costumes look different than they did during performances because they are not under stage lights. Adamian noticed the wigs from "Great Scott" are more vibrantly colored than she remembered.

"They seem very bright and jarring and I think that one of things that's hard to capture in this exhibit is how lighting design impacts all of it and how it really diffuses and really melds together all of the colors of the wig design, the make-up, the fabrics themselves and create one unified picture," Adamian said.

During a performance, audiences see singers moving in a costume for a brief time. At NorthPark Center, visitors can inspect mannequins wearing the costumes.

"Here, it's staying put and somebody can look at it from different angles," Rivard said. "You get to decide how long you look at it and what side you look at it from. You can be more critical of something that's standing still and there forever."

Jennifer Gonzalez / NBC Bay Area
David C. Woolard costumes from Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer's 2015 world premier of Everest.

In the "Everest" display, visitors can see costumes they might not have noticed during a performance. Mountaineer ghosts of those who died attempting to climb Mount Everest wore neutral colored costumes and gray make-up. They blended into the set until projections identified them.

"The design aspect that was so fascinating is that they had to wear fabric and a surface that was flat enough so that the projections the projection designer was putting on them would be able to absorb and depict what was needed," Adamian said.

Rivard hopes the exhibition gives visitors greater insight into the multitude of pieces that come together for the performance of opera. "We want to tell the story of what goes on stage," Rivard said.

These costumes reflect an evolution of an art form as it tells new, more diverse stories indicating modern audiences' interests. "Opera tells every story in every time period for every class," Rivard said. "It can be whatever you want it to be. What are you into? Whatever you're into, it's probably going to be on an opera stage at some point."

The exhibition demonstrates The Dallas Opera's contribution to that evolution. "It's about how innovative this company is and has become over the last ten years," Adamian said.

The Dallas Opera opens its 2019-2020 season with Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (Oct. 18 – Nov. 3) and Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel" (Oct. 25 – Nov. 2).

MORE: DallasOpera.org

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