Crisis: Opera is running out of costumes

Crisis: Opera is running out of costumes


norman lebrecht

April 20, 2015


Elizabeth Braw reports for Newsweek that opera and ballet companies are running low beause ‘fashion colleges don’t teach students how to sew’.

So serious is the crisis that Opera Philadelphia’s new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlo is under threat because Don Carlo requires a huge range of hand-stitched costumes strong enough to withstand the nightly rigours of the lead role. ‘We pay the best rates in the city but there just aren’t enough qualified stitchers available.’

Full story here.




  • John Borstlap says:

    Obviously it’s time for regietheater: perform all repertoire operas in the nude.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    This sounds like the problem with art schools not teaching their students how to draw.

  • CDH says:

    It sounds like the problem of the age, which will leave us without doctors and engineers and all sorts of other professions — too much like work for the generation(s) with the attention span of a gnat, a desire for fame without achievement, and all the other wonderful spinoffs of “celebrity culture” — specifically, the spectacularly mis-named “reality” shows.

    The smartphone crowd do not actually apply themselves to much that takes effort. The males have disappeared first (check university populations), but the females will presumably follow.

  • Nick says:

    The writing in that Newsweek article is really very poor and makes great leaps of logic! The seamstress problem with Don Carlo is putting the whole production under threat? Excuse me!

    Working on a costume for an opera certainly requires a great deal of attention and expertise. But for Philadelphia Opera’s costume director to claim “A good opera house seamstress has the same skills as a surgeon” is utterly ridiculous!

    A comparison with London is equally so for London has an army of skilled freelance seamstresses who make for a vast array of opera, ballet, theatre and other performing companies, many not based in London. They may not always be available if a company does not plan far enough ahead, as was seen in the television documentary on the workings of Royal Opera and Ballet “The House”. One scene has its overwrought and overwhelmed General Director Jeremy Isaacs addressing the company in the stalls advising them he had every freelancer in London working 24 hours a day to complete the costumes for two imminent productions. Had his artistic team planned a bit further ahead, they would never have had that crisis.

    Philadelphia does not have many home-grown opera productions and there is a lot of time between them. If Ms. Hiibel cannot find enough seamstresses in the city, has she thought of outsourcing to other cities? New York is just a couple of hours away and I am sure there will be plenty of freelance seamstresses looking for work – provided their time is booked in advance.

    A bit of a storm in a teacup, methinks – manufactured for PR purposes perhaps!

  • Chris Walsh says:

    A few weeks ago, someone commented on this plan by the ROH to fund a course on costume making:

    “Seriously. A BA in cutting frocks, in association with the University of the Arts London. Read the specifications here.
    You couldn’t make it up.
    What next – a Met MA in media manipulation?
    A Bolshoi PhD in bullsh*t?”

    Jog any memories?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    As a surgeon I feel deeply offended. Philadelphia Opera’s costume director should apologize. (No intention to offend the seamstresses.)