28 Aug 2018

First look: The costumes in “Romeo and Juliet”

by Shaundra Rushton

Romeo and Juliet is a tragic story that withstands the test of time. This tale, originally written by William Shakespeare, has been depicted in many different artistic genres including opera. Although we’re not performing this until October, you don’t have to wait to get the scoop on the amazing costumes we’re creating.

I went backstage to talk with Verona Green, the head of costuming, about the exciting wardrobe surprises for the upcoming production. She first described the process of costuming a major production.

When a season is solidified (about two years in advance) the artistic director decides if the costuming will be built from scratch or if we’ll take our existing costumes and adapt them for a production. For Romeo and Juliet, we’ll be “remounting,” or rather reusing and updating what we already have.

Once we’ve determined a stage director, “That’s when the discussions begin,” says Green. The stage director examines the existing costumes, and decides the “look” the production will have. The stage director then discusses the details with Green, the artistic director, the technical director, the conductor, and the production manager and talks about his or her vision and how to make it possible.

When Utah Opera first performed Romeo and Juliet, Susan Memmott-Allred designed the costumes. This season’s production will use the original costumes but with a few new twists to match the stage director’s vision and differences in sizes of chorus and leads. The costume shop has been updating and crafting new pieces all summer to meet these needs.

Part of that vision is to clearly define the Capulet and Montague characters. Green says the stage director wants the audience to easily tell which characters come from which family. Montague Blue and Capulet Red emphasize the rivalry between the households.

In the Opera, Romeo has a group of friends with him on stage. His friends will wear costumes in tones of blue and green so the audience can easily pick them out from the rest of the ensemble.

Another interesting challenge for this production was making new masks for the masquerade ball in the first act. The costume shop bought generic blank masks and detailed them in-house with intricate layers of paint and lace. The masks were painted, then layered with lace for added texture by Donna Thomas.

One of Green’s favorite parts of working on Romeo and Juliet is updating the costumes with new fabrics. “The new fabrics for this production are amazing!… The audience will notice the quality of the fabrics from the back of the room.”

When asked what her favorite part of her job is, she said “When I see a piece built for a cast member (and you know they will look and feel confident in it), I love to see them smile in their fitting.”

Learn more and get tickets to Romeo and Juliet here.

Shaundra Rushton, is an intern at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. She is studying at Weber State University, and will soon graduate with her bachelor’s degree in communication. She is a singer, instrumentalist, writer, and loving wife to her also musically inclined husband.