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Styling The Ghosts of Versailles

The Ghosts of Versailles (2015); Photo: Robert Millard

The Ghosts of Versailles (2015); Photo: Robert Millard

One of the most elaborate productions LA Opera has staged in recent years was John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, directed by Tony Award winning director Darko Tresnjak (who returns to stage a new production of Macbeth in September). The story follows the ghost of Marie Antoinette (Patricia Racette), who while trapped in the spirit world, bitterly reflects on her final suffering. Her favorite playwright tries to entertain the melancholy queen with the continuing adventures of his beloved characters from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. But sneaky Figaro refuses to play by the script, breaking free from the opera-within-the-opera in a surprise bid for a better life. The opera turns history on its head as love attempts to alter the course of destiny.

With many different worlds to incorporated into Tresnjak and costume designer Linda Cho’s overall vision, The Ghosts of Versailles was a complex, multi-layered, and rewarding show to style.

Darren K. Jinks and Brandi Strona – masters of their wig and makeup crafts – took on styling Ghosts of Versailles and succeeded to dramatic effect (both are nominated for tomorrow’s Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards).

Most operas require hair and makeup styling from one era or “world.” Take La Boheme, for example. Our production sets the action completely in 1880s Paris and so the singers’ hair and makeup reflects that time period. The Ghosts of Versailles is another beast entirely. It’s a show comprised of four distinct worlds: The Ghost World, The Figaro World, The Turkish World, and The French Revolution World. Thus, With the help of an expanded team (10 principal hair/makeup artists and 13 additional hair/makeup artists for chorus members) Jinks and Strona created (and managed during show dates) 47 principal wigs, 55 chorus and supernumerary wigs, 41 sets of facial hair, and several different makeup looks for the show’s 82 cast members (including principal artists, dancers, and supernumeraries). Productions normally have half the number of wigs and makeup looks needed for Ghosts.

The Ghosts of Versailles (2015); Photo: Robert Millard

Like any other art form, hair/makeup styling starts as a concept and there’s a great deal of planning involved. Since it’s such a feat to stage an opera, the production staff normally plans for new productions at least one or two years in advance. Such was the case with The Ghosts of Versailles. Styling ideas for Ghosts began 12 to 18 months before the show opened, with additional dramaturgical work occurring during the three to four months before the show. The extensive dramaturgy (ie. historical research) included watching films set during the time period for ideas (Tresnjak and Cho were inspired by film such as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Stephen Frear’s Dangerous Liaisons) as well as researching the French Revolution era to come up with hair/makeup styling that not only theatrical, but also matched period norms.

These norms differed based on the worlds. Here’s a breakdown of some of each world’s hair and makeup style.

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Iconic Productions: The Ghosts of Versailles

The Ghosts of Versailles exemplifies LA Opera’s ongoing commitment to the most important operas of our time.”

Plácido Domingo

The west coast premiere of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles in February 2015 was one of the most exciting – and iconic – productions to grace the LA Opera stage in recent seasons. Originally staged by the Metropolitan Opera in 1991, The Ghosts of Versailles is an opera-within-an-opera that counterpoises the fiction of Mozart and Beaumarchais (author of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro) with the Reign of Terror to create a richly multilayered meditation on the need for, and costs of personal and social change.

Trapped in the spirit world, the ghost of Marie Antoinette bitterly reflects on her final suffering. Her favorite playwright tries to entertain the melancholy queen with the continuing adventures of his beloved characters from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. But sneaky Figaro refuses to play by the script, breaking free from the opera-within-the-opera in a surprise bid for a better life. The opera turns history on its head as love attempts to alter the course of destiny.

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Iconic Productions: Mahagonny

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes” – Bertolt Brecht

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

In 1927, two titans of German theater and opera (respectively), Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht started working on Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Their intriguing partnership (which would last through other famed works, such as The Threepenny Opera) resulted in a marriage of married epic theater and energetic music to satirically showcase the excesses of modern life and politics.

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