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Capes, caps, and Capulets: Raid the racks at LA Opera costume shop for Halloween

October 8, 2009 |  3:11 pm

Rage_opera10 Just in time for Halloween, LA Opera has decided to hold its first costume sale, saying sayonara to 24 years of accumulated gowns, capes, headgear and masks -- some 2,500 pieces in all -- in a one-day sale at the parking lot of its Alameda Street costume shop.

The second I heard the news, I called the Opera's director of communications, GaryRage_boot Murphy, to wheedle my way into the warehouse for a sneak preview -- figuring that given the size range of opera singers (which Murphy describes as "from robust Wagnerians to petite Mozartians") there had to be something that would look classy cloaking my own robust Wagnerian frame this All Hallow's Eve.

So I popped down to the costume shop this morning expecting to find some kooky costumes and cool hats (which I most certainly did) but was  wholly unprepared for the mind-boggling range of pieces, from $2 scarves to a blue and green hooded cloak designed by Maurice Sendak (perfect for the jet-setting Jedi Knight in your life) for the 1990 production of "Idomeneo" to an extraordinarily beautiful white dress with intricate black and white brocade work hidden in the folds (worn by the Anna Glawari character in "The Merry Widow"), each with a $2,500 price tag.

Rage_11 Many of those high-end pieces are on a dedicated "Diva Rack" filled with hand-crafted gowns from "La Traviata," "Don Giovanni" and "The Merry Widow," and another crammed with costumes worn by Spanish superstar tenor Plácido Domingo in "Un Ballo in Maschera," "Idomeneo," and "Parsifal."

But there are also rack upon rack of more moderately priced costumes; for about $200 you can choose from dozens of identical merry peasant dresses or medieval courtier costumes (grab a few of the latter, a couple of friends and you're just swords away from a Three Musketeers moment).

A "critter rack" holds a porcupine suit (my personal favorite), a mouse mask and the outfit worn by the title character in "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." And you know how the opera is about its headgear --  hats and caps seem to cover every available surface, dangle from hangers, and stack on shelves; floppy caps festooned with feathers, fez-like lids accessorized with kitchen utensils, repurposed boots and the obligatory winged armored helmet (most in the $20 to $40 range). (If there's a hard-core Dr. Seuss fan out there aching to act out "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins," now's your chance!)

The crown jewel -- and by far the creepiest looking piece in the collection -- is a rubberized, full-body suit from "The Fly" that looks like a yeti carcass cobbled together from mucus and dryer lint. Murphy calls it the character's "post-man, pre-muck" phase. And it willRage_opera1 fly out the door to the first person to plunk down $5,000.

So why, after nearly a quarter-century, did the organization decide to sell it off? "Costumers are hoarders," LA Opera's costume director Jenny Green told me this morning. "And after 24 years we need to make space. There are costumes we know we'll never use again, and in this economic climate it makes sense."

I asked Green if there was anything in the vast collection she found  particularly hard to part with.

"Every single garment," she said with a sigh. 

LA Opera Costume Shop sale, Saturday, Oct. 10, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 330 S. Alameda St., Los Angeles.

-- Adam Tschorn

Photos: The LA Opera's first costume shop sale includes (from top) a dress from "The Merry Widow," assorted silly hats, a costume from "Idomeneo," and a porcupine costume from "The Fantastic Mr. Fox."

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