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Oct. 27 2011

I get paid to play dress-up. Oh, yeah, and sing.

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | Comments Off on I get paid to play dress-up. Oh, yeah, and sing.

When I was a kid,”dress-up” was undoubtedly my favorite playtime activity. I had a huge stash of my mom’s old costume jewelry & purchased more of the stuff (plus various used bridesmaid’s dresses) at garage sales, so my friends & I could spend hours pretending to be royalty or characters from our favorite TV shows. My love for all things wearable has never waned; I am still a notorious clotheshorse.

One of the best things about being a performer – especially an opera singer – is that it gives me the opportunity to wear fabulous costumes. Okay, not everything I’ve been asked to wear onstage has been flattering; sometimes the show, or at least the production, demands that I wear things I’d never put on of my own volition, such as a muumuu or a gown so voluminous that it makes me look like a small settee. No such issues in Lyric Opera Baltimore’s current “La Travaiata”: this is a straight-up, traditional production, set in the 19th century, in which the opera premiered. Bring on the corsets!

Last night, I noticed that the cinder block hallways outside the Lyric’s dressing rooms were made considerably brighter by the racks of costumes lining them. Frills, ballgown skirts, jewel tones, metallic lace – my inner eight-year-old leaped with joy. I was meeting with Kristina Lambdin, LOB’s Costume Supervisor, for a pre-rehearsal costume fitting. Kristina & I worked together at Baltimore Opera for years, so it’s great that we’ve both landed at the new company. Right when I walked into the women’s chorus dressing room, she handed me a “butt cage”, a bustle-like protuberance to be worn under my Act One gown. Ah, the things we do for art & period fashion.

As it turns out, the cage looks great once covered by the costume. My dress for Violetta’s party is yellow – think marigold – & gorgeous; lots of ruffles, chiffon, & one heck of a tight corset built right into the bodice. These costumes weren’t sewn by LOB; they’re rentals, & the designer had them made with hooks & eyes up the backs of the bodices. Normally, gowns like this lace up as a corset would, giving a bit of leeway in fitting singers whose rib cages might be different sizes. No such luck here, & Kristina managed to hook me into the dress – at least I think she closed all of the hooks! – but it will have to be taken out a bit if I’m to move & sing in it. I jokingly apologized & said I wasn’t lying about my measurements when asked for them a while back, & she merely laughed & said the alterations wouldn’t be that major. With trepidation, I slipped into my “gypsy” dress for Flora’s party, which is red & black, very lacy, & makes me feel like a Spanish doll. Muy Carmencita & it fits better than the other gown. A few tweaks at the hemline & this one will be ready to go.

Even the prettiest costumes & wigs can present problems onstage. A few years ago, my friend Phyllis & I had a great bit of staging in “Tales of Hoffmann” at BOC. We were placed on a loveseat, downstage, near center, & were supposed to be gossiping about the other guests at Spalanzani’s party. Our costumes were lovely ballgowns & came with elaborate hair ornaments – feathers, curlicues, & such – that we began referring to as our “antlers.” One night, as we leaned toward each other, out antlers became so entwined that we didn’t think we’d be able to unhook from one another, at least not without drawing attention to ourselves. To make matters worse, Phyllis’ wig started coming off! Eventually, we had no choice but to separate our headgear in a most obvious fashion, singing all the while. We had a moment offstage after that, during which Phyllis had just enough time to re-pin her wig.

I haven’t seen our wigs for this show, but I have seen our headgear – small floral pieces for the first scene & snoods for the second. I don’t think I’ll end up conjoined to anyone in this show – at least, I hope I don’t!

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

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