Hoop Skirts Are The Real Star of Nabucco

On Nov. 2, Verdi’s Nabucco returns to the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with Plácido Domingo in the title role. The vibrant production by director Thaddeus Strassberger pays homage to the opera’s premiere at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala in 1842, featuring costumes elegantly designed by Mattie Ullrich.

Photo: Ken Howard/LA Opera

Of all the garments seen onstage, perhaps the most intricate are those seen during the overture. The women are dressed in traditional 19th-century garments, which include bodices and structured hoop skirts, some of which require an astronomical amount of detail. The only to fully understand the process it takes to move in a hoop skirt is by wearing one. So when we sought out to explore this we knew it would be an experience. 

“There isn’t any way you can understand a hoop unless you put one on I wasn’t being funny or facetious. I’m being absolutely genuine,” said Jennifer Green, Costume Director of LA Opera.

In venturing to our costume shop in the Arts District, we discovered that the hoop skirts were originally created by LA Opera for its production of Roméo et Juliette. They have since been repurposed for a myriad of productions, including Verdi’s La Traviata with Renée Fleming in 2006.

The hoop skirts are taken off when our supers enter the upper levels of the box seats (Photo by Ken Howard/LA Opera)

Green states that whenever doing a show in which a crinolyn is required, the hoops are pulled out of stock, along with its accompanying pieces. Such additions include a “bumroll,” a pad placed on the backside to help balance the skirt. 

“There is a massive structure to the hoops. To get that shape, they need to have a very large ‘bumroll’ so that the hoop doesn’t fall in,” said Green.

Additionally, because the skirts take up so much space, a special rehearsal is reserved for those wearing the skirts. Green explained that the rehearsal is required to ensure the correct spacing is figured out before they reach the final rehearsal stages.

“At regular rehearsals,” Green explains, “people turn up into rehearsals in jeans and a t-shirt, and they’re standing and dancing very close. But the reality is, while wearing a hoop skirt, you actually can’t get that close. So it’s all about spacing.”

Spacing is not the only challenge that arises when hoop skirts are on the stage.  Following the overture in Nabucco, two of the skirted ladies must make a dash up a narrow flight of stairs to make the next entrance.

A trip to the costume shop turns into a costume fitting.

Green went on to say: “In Nabucco, there are all these grand ladies, and six of them go into the boxes. Two of those ladies then climb a very steep staircase to the top of the box. There is absolutely no way they could climb up the narrow staircase in the hoops so we must remove them.”

As the costume shop asserts, the only way to truly understand the hoop skirt is to see for yourself, which I did as you see in the picture above.

To see the hoop skirts in action, purchase tickets to Nabucco by clicking here.

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