• Behind the Scenes: The Costumes of La Traviata

    By COC Staff

    Photo: COC Staff

    La Traviata
    is one of Verdi’s most popular operas, a romantic tragedy set against the whirling parties of high-society Paris in the middle of the 19th century. As a courtesan, Violetta works as an escort to powerful, rich men who pay for her company. On the one hand, her life has the trappings of charmed glamour and a sophisticated joie de vivre. On the other, she is considered a “fallen woman” in the eyes of the stratified society she moves through, where a strict order maintains the “respectability” of her male clients who, in turn, refuse to grant her any autonomy in love and life.  

    In exploring the work’s emotional core—and the tension between glamour and decay, reality and fantasy—costume designer Cait O’Connor, a “rock star of the stage style world” (Elle Magazine), conjures an exaggerated decadence with stunning, opulent costumes, requiring yards of silk, lace, and tulle. 

    Co-produced by The Canadian Opera Company, Houston Grand Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, a show of this scale requires the work of countless costume professionals across multiple opera organizations. As we prepare for opening night, we visited our own industrious costumes department for a behind-the-scenes look at getting the threads of Verdi’s La Traviata ready to shine on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Read on to learn more!

    Looking to secure your seats for La Traviata? Try some of our Best Available dates below!

    Photo: COC Staff

    Tasked with storing, organizing, and getting clothing stage-ready, our costume department is the home of countless garments, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary. In the case of La Traviata, each costume's extravagance requires individual attention and preparation. Our costumes staff must also be ready to handle the sheer scale of the show: more than 100 unique costumes appear on stage, worn by everyone from the opera’s soloists, to the chorus, dancers, and supernumeraries.

    Photo: COC Staff

    Of course, some costumes need to stand out in the crowd. In Traviata, the production’s many impressive ball gowns steal the show. But, understanding that performers need to be able to move onstage with freedom, the design team and our costumes department created massive flowing dresses that are equal parts light, comfortable, and immense, despite featuring yards of fabric and structure-reinforcing “cages.” As the show’s star, Violetta appears in the most eye-catching costumes, including an ethereal gown with a lustrous star emblazoned on the silks of the skirt and a celestially inspired tiara.

    Photo: Michael Cooper
    Preliminary Costume Sketch for La Traviata (COC, 2015): Cait O’Connor

    Traviata’s Act II gown features 12 layers of fabric, more than a dozen colours, yards of jeweled trim, and a gown hoop for maintaining the shape of the dress, so impressive in size it has earned the nickname “the Volkswagen.” Getting a costume of this complexity stage-ready includes a four-hour petticoat steaming process!

    Photo: Michael Cooper
    Preliminary Costume Sketch for La Traviata (COC, 2015): Cait O’Connor

    Costume designer Cait O’Connor remarked on this contrast between the lighter appearance of Violetta in the first half of the opera with the darker hues of the second, when the high-society world has revealed its more dangerous undercurrents: “Fantasy has turned into hallucination. All of the colours are pulled from the iridescent spectrum found in crow's feathers and the acidic rainbow of an oil slick.”

    Photo: COC Staff

    Just as important as the clothes on the artist’s back are the shoes on their feet. Catering to our many productions, characters, and shoe sizes, the costumes team houses row upon row, box upon box of shoes ready to tread the stage board. Outfitting the Traviata chorus alone requires more than 100 pairs of shoes, with nearly half of those requiring painstaking hand-painting with custom-mixed colours. 

    Stay tuned for more spotlights on La Traviata’s costumes, wigs, props, and more!

    Don’t miss your chance to see all of this hard work in action! Tickets are now on sale for La Traviata, as well as The Magic Flute and The Queen in Me.

    Posted in A Season Like No Other


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