Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Opera Atelier Costume Sale

 Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea; Artist: Peggy Kriha
Dye; Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger 2009.

When I first heard that Opera Atelier would be having a costume sale, I was almost tempted to keep this information to myself. After all, the less people that knew about the sale, the better chance I'd have of acquiring one of their exquisitely made 18th century styled gowns or ballet dresses. But after chatting with Marshall Pynkoski, Opera Atelier's charming director, my conscience got the better of me and I'm shouting out the news to the world here.

Although it seems hard to fathom how this successful opera company can part with any of its costumes, Marshall explained that the idea first popped into his head a few years ago when he and co-director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg came across a sale of costumes at Opera Garnier in Paris. This sale, held about every ten years, made them realize that even a large company like the Paris Opera cannot afford to store every costume ever worn. Storage is very costly. And over time, a company's aesthetic changes.

In the beginning, Opera Atelier's costumes used to be driven by style and elaborate detail - with silk and lace with embroidery and beading. Marshall said "Each costume had an extraordinary amount of handwork and the costumes became so elaborate that you simply could not go any further. An enormous amount of money was spent on embellishments." 

It was during a rehearsal of Medee in 2002 that Marshall realized that it was time for a change. He watched an actor rake his hands through his hair to make a dramatic gesture but recognized that this would not be possible if the actor put on the elaborate wig for the period.  He asked himself "what was this scene really about?" and instead of allowing fashion to take pre-eminence over the drama,  dispensed with the wigs. With the change in hairstyle, the costumes needed to change. Marshall began to look for a more refined aesthetic, stripping away the extraneous embellishments but "keeping the silhouette of the period and the size and volume with less to distract the eye". In so doing, "fashion was the means to an end". The costumes became less about the external and more about the interior, "what was going on psychologically for the actors".

Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro; Artists: Nathalie Paulin and Daniel Belcher;
Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger 2003. 

This refinement in aesthetic and the mounting costs of storage have culminated in this sale of Opera Atelier costumes. With the help of his operational staff, Marshall looked at each and every costume from Opera Atelier's twenty-five years of productions.  The process was "both cathartic and nostalgic but also extremely difficult, especially the first round of picks". Often he would come across something that would remind him of a particular production, actor, or dancer and want to keep it. He had to force himself to become more ruthless. (I was sorely tempted to discuss the embodiment of memories and clothing at more length for my research). Two representative costumes were chosen from each production for archiving and a number of other important pieces were set aside for possible donation to a museum.

There will be approximately 400 Opera Atelier costumes for sale at prices ranging from $50 to $250. For the benefit of Opera Atelier, I hope many of you will attend the sale, but watch out for my sharp elbows!! (I am looking for a gown or two to use in my upcoming self-portrait series a la Cindy Sherman.)

Mozart's Don Giovanni; Artists: Curtis Sullivan and Nathalie Paulin; 
Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger 2004.

Opera Atelier Costume Sale
Runway Show and Cocktail Reception
June 3, 2010  6-9 pm   Tickets $25

Sale continues June 4 and 5, 2010 from 1-5 pm (free admission)

All-Canadian Self-Storage
1 Laird Drive (at Millwood Road)

Call 416-703-3767 ext 25 for more information