Tag Archives: The Ghosts of Versailles
When Laina Babb learned to sew at age six, she never imagined it would lead her to the opera. She’s made her love of sewing into a career, first training and then apprenticing as a tailor. Now, as LA Opera’s Head Tailor, Babb manages a team of up to six tailors (depending on the show). Together they craft all the men’s suits used in the company’s productions. That means she’s had a hand in making pretty much every suit you can imagine – elaborate French Revolution-style suits for The Ghosts of Versailles, 1960s Italian suits for the Woody Allen directed Gianni Schicchi, and even a flashy, taffeta suit worn in Porgy and Bess.
From Learning to Sew To Working at LA Opera
Long before Babb worked at LA Opera, she was just a little girl learning to sew as part of the 4-H program in her hometown of Lockwood, California. In this program, children complete hands-on projects that will serve their communities, as part of a larger goal to empower young people and teach them leadership.
Babb took her sewing skills with her to high school, where she made costumes in the theater department. Working in costumes in high school spawned her desire to turn a love of sewing and costumes into a career in theater.
Babb enrolled at Chapman University to study technical theater. During her four years at Chapman, she took multiple costume classes, but the technical side of costuming – of building them and solving all a director’s staging challenges – kept calling.
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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.
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.
It has been a milestone season at LA Opera. During the latter half of our 29th season, we presented some of the most engaging and successful productions in the company’s history: a masterful west coast premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles, an engaging cinematic cross-over opera, Hercules vs. Vampires, and an epic avant-garde opera in Dog Days. Our 30th Anniversary Season has started off with a bang. Plácido Domingo’s 147th role debut as the title character in Gianni Schicchi, double-billed with Pagliacci, a contemporary classic, Moby-Dick, a sold-out run of Song from the Uproar, and a beloved bel canto masterpiece, Norma have all wowed Los Angeles audiences since September. Throughout the year, we’ve also had continued success with various initiatives that promote the arts in the greater Los Angeles Community, including our Cathedral Project and Opera Camp.
Below we’ve gathered a few articles and videos we’ve created throughout the year and additional photos are featured in our 2015: A Year in Review Pinterest gallery.
Take a sneak peek behind-the-scenes at The Ghosts of Versailles set and costumes as well as a preview from the show.
It’s finally the night.
After spending some time researching and reading about which opera to see first, you’ve snagged some tickets and are thrilled to be attending your first opera. But there’s one more thing to figure out before big night out…
What to wear?
A casual sundress? A nice suit? A Lady Gaga-inspired dress made of meat? Swim trunks and sandals? What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Opera fashion can be as wild and crazy as Paris Fashion Week, or Kirsten Dunst’s outfits in Marie Antoinette, but it can also be a more casual affair. It’s an event impossible to overdress for and also the best place to catch somewhat of a fashion show for free.
There’s really no wrong way to dress for the opera (excluding meat dresses and swim trunks). It’s all about what the opera-goer feels comfortable wearing when it’s all boiled down. A great tip for opera newbies would be to dress up the first time to attend a performance. Don’t go over the top and drop a lot of money on an outfit you won’t wear again, but do throw on a nice dress or suit. It’s not every day you get the chance to dress to impress. Take advantage of it! After experiencing a performance or two and having a chance to see the wide array of outfits worn, then make the call about going a bit more casual (if preferred) for the next trip to the opera.
Another great way to determine what to wear would be figuring out which night or day the show falls on. Opening and weekend night performances are usually the dressiest nights. They’re a great opportunity to whip out more formal dresses with big statement pieces and spiffy suits with the most tasteful of bowties. Weekday and matinee performances are generally where you’ll see more casually dressed opera-goers in business casual or jeans and a nice blouse or button-up.
Check out our What To Wear To Opera Board on Pinterest for style ideas.
Watching opera often also means reading supertitles – translations of opera text projected on a screen high enough for the whole audience to see. It’s a debated subject. Are supertitles needed or antiquated? While you’ll enjoy the opera whether you speak the language being sung or not, supertitles help you follow along.
Linda Zoolalian knows this well. A fan of opera since she saw a production of La Bohème as a teenager, Zoolalian runs supertitles for LA Opera (a position she has held since 2003). Working supertitles has strengthened her belief that the marriage between voice and text is vital to effect emotion in audience members.