Opera is a spectacle: the power of the voices reverberating through the theatre; the beauty of the music transporting us all to another place; the vibrant costumes pulling it all together to deliver a magical experience. Historic opera costumes––including pieces designed for Maria Callas, Anna Netrebko, and Ganna Walska––are on display in world famous museums and adored by thousands on a daily basis.
It’s safe to say that in the case of opera, the clothes really do make the character. That’s where Ms. Josette Miles and her team in Kentucky Opera’s costume shop come in. The shop is packed to the gills with everything from feather boas to bowler hats. Dress forms congregate near boxes labeled, “BOHEME Fingerless Gloves,” and “BUTTERFLY parasols,”–– evidence of productions gone by and work well done.
Behind a white curtain, flanked on either side by towers of shoe boxes, lies the fitting room, where Ms. Josette and her team work to perfect costumes down to the minute details. We visited while they were fitting Katy Lindhart, the soprano who is preparing to dazzle us as Marzelline in FIDELIO.
Katy had to stand still with her arms out as Ms. Josette adjusted the hem of the floral costume, changed the neckline, and compared three necklaces, finally settling on a small, gold cross. This is just Katy’s first fitting for FIDELIO. Before the premiere, Ms. Josette and her team will tailor and alter every costume for every singer-actor appearing on stage, then perform second fittings to make completely sure that everything is perfect.
Having been with Kentucky Opera more than three decades, Ms. Josette remembers Kentucky Opera’s first production of FIDELIO, back in the 1980s. “It was a very big, classical production. The costumes were all heavy and expensive, but now the modern audience wants an updated version. In fittings this week, I’ve been really pleased with the changes. It’s going to be great.”
“We have to pay attention to all the little details,” says Ms. Josette. “The audience is so close to the stage, they can tell whether a necklace is a locket or a cross, so the details have become very important. Last time we did FIDELIO, all the singers wore character shoes. Now we get period-correct shoes and put arches in them to make them fit well.”
The role of the right costume in theater can’t be overstated. “The costume is part of the character, the same as a personality trait. Plus, if the actor goes on stage looking his best, he doesn’t have to worry about his costume, he sings better.”
Ms. Josette is a tornado of pins, seam rippers, and ideas as she whirls around Katy. “We adjust,” she says. “And we adjust again until the character is honored and the artist is satisfied.” You will most certainly want to be in the audience this month to see how Ms. Josette’s adjustments pay off in the premiere of FIDELIO, September 19 & 21!