La Bohème is one of the world’s most beloved operas; it also returns this season in one of LA Opera’s iconic productions. In 1993, director Herbert Ross envisioned a production set in the romantic era of Belle Époque Paris, fashioned brilliantly by costume designer Peter J. Hall. Since Hall’s passing in 2010, the costume shop has made some updates to his design, while keeping his original vision for La Bohème alive.
“He was a real artist,” says Jeannique Prospere reverently. Prospere is a Senior Costume Production Supervisor at LA Opera. Since joining the company in 2007, she has overseen many shows, including La Bohème (which has 160 total costumes). “As a supervisor, what I usually do is try and get into the designer’s head and see what they want to be on stage and keep that vision alive,” she says. This entails reviewing the costumes each time a production is revived, making sure that they retain the same feel and that the original idea is kept. Costumes might also need to be tweaked for a singer, not only in size and shape, but also in aesthetic, in order to reflect a singer’s individual essence.
In 2012, Prospere also stepped into the designer role to update some of Hall’s costumes to fit then director Greg Fortner’s vision. Fortner wanted to “create a scene that was more grounded in reality in period, as well as climate,” making the show’s seasonal changes more obvious. For example, this meant adding gloves and coats for the characters to wear during the winter months of Acts I and II.
Fortner also wanted to make Musetta more approachable, likable, and three-dimensional. This meant a redo of her four costumes. Before touching a single piece of fabric, Prospere went back to Hall’s original renderings. She says, “I really enjoy looking at his renderings, because he didn’t draw a figure standing straight for costume design purposes. He brings in the character. In his drawings, he captured the feel of the people and of the era. I was really inspired by that, apart from the color palette, lines, and silhouettes.”
Musetta’s original Act II costume was a very bold fuchsia and yellow. To add complexity to the character, Prospere added more layers to her petticoat and costume, as well as more texture, while still keeping the costume refined. She also altered the colors, choosing a deeper wine tone as the main color of the costume. Yet Hall’s original designs and vision were never far from Prospere’s mind as she updated Musetta’s costumes. Prospere made sure that the colors, lines, and style of Musetta’s new costumes still worked not only within the period, but also within the costume world that Hall created.
This year, Prospere was once again asked to create additional costumes for the production by current director Peter Kazaras. He added soldiers to Act III, where there had previously been none. This proved a different challenge, because Hall never created soldier costumes. First, Prospere researched what soldiers wore in the period. Then, the process of creating a new costume began, which includes sketching a draft, selecting color and fabric samples, creating a mockup of the piece. Adjustments are made and ultimately adjusting when the performers come in for a fitting.
With each revival of La Bohème, Prospere and members of the costume shop work to keep Peter Hall’s original vision alive. Whether updating Hall’s original costumes or creating entirely new fashions, Hall’s artistic vision has never been far from the minds of the costumers working on the show. Yet with each new revival, the costumes for La Bohème continue to remain fresh and iconic, a testament to the tireless work of LA Opera’s costume staff.
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