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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

All about corsets!

"This music is like electric gossip." -- Maestro Pelto, on the overture to The Marriage of Figaro

Rehearsals continue! In just a few days, we will move all our rehearsal gear over to Keller Auditorium for one last week of technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals. And then we open!

Figaro presents some very interesting challenges for our costume shop, because many of the characters get dressed (and undressed) onstage, in front of the audience, while singing. This means that the costumes have to be very easy and straightforward to put on, and, as last week's rehearsal notes suggest, "singer-proof"! There have been a lot of changes to the costumes thus far, and a few accidents. Hence the following type of rehearsal notes:

1. Thank you for the quick ruffle removal on Susanna's veil today. That's all we needed to make it "less petticoat."
2. For Act I, Susanna will enter in the waist cincher, blouse and petticoat. She puts the blue bodice on onstage and will remove the cincher and blouse on an exit in Act I.
3. Can the hook/eye at the top of Susanna's blue bodice be any larger?
4. We had a few mishaps in rehearsal today: many of the buttons came off Cherubino's pants, and there is a rip in the lower back area of Marcellina's robe.
5. Please ADD a very large snap to the top of the blue ombre robe -- the hook isn't staying closed with all the vigorous action.
6. Cherubino removes his shoes onstage.

Here's another interesting fact for you: in this show, all the characters wear corsets. All of them -- including the men.

Our costume cutter/draper, Rae Minten, very sweetly took a little time to set some of the corsets up on dress forms so you could see them.  This beautiful one is the Count's:


Here's a close up of the detail:


This 'commoner' corset is for a chorister:


Male corsets, like female corsets, are period-accurate, and our costumes are very period appropriate. Generally speaking, you don't see male corsets in costumes as much as you do female ones -- because men find them so uncomfortable! Any woman who's ever worn one could tell you that, boys. Here is a very funny modern take on the discomforts of male corseting.

Trying to imagine a male corset? Trying to figure out the point? While the female corset's main purpose was (usually) to achieve a desired look -- i.e. the enhanced bust/hips and tiny waist -- the male corset historically was used as a slimming device. Victorian Spanx, if you will.

Corset Blog Photo 1

However, there was a period in the early 1800s where male corsetry DID in fact aim to achieve a certain look, called the wasp waist. The wasp waist (so called because of its resemblance to the insect) is nipped in, similar to the waist produced by the female corset, where the change from the size of the natural ribcage to the corseted waist is purposely quite pronounced.

Corset Blog Photo 2

(There are also some accounts of medieval horsemen using corsets to protect the spine in battle.)

It's difficult to find a modern image of the male corset without turning up 800 pictures of men in Victorian vampire dress. Here is a modern-day item with the same purpose as the 19th-century male corset.

Corset Blog Photo 3

Here is a decent example of a male corset. (And I love the word "glamoflage").

And if you're wondering what a "waist cincher" is, as referred to in the rehearsal notes above, it's essentially a short (6 or 7 inches) corset -- still boned and back-laced, as a corset would be, but lighter, and often worn over a girdle. Sounds like fun, huh?

You will get to see the actual Figaro costumes in action in next week's blog post. I know - what a tease!

For fun, here are some more notes from Figaro rehearsals. In case it's not already apparent, I love rehearsal notes! I find them always a little mysterious and often unintentionally funny. (And sometimes -- because our stage manager & production staff have a great sense of humor -- intentionally funny.)

1. Please CUT the carrot.
2. Please ADD a real apple.
3. The glides on the bed are very smooth, almost too smooth, causing the bed to slide downstage throughout all of Act I. Can we discuss something to help prevent that?
4. Please make the croissant a real croissant. The grapes can be fake.
5. Please CUT the small juice glass of milky white liquid.
6. Please ADD a powder-dispensing atomizer. It will have powder in it.
7. Lantern meeting email forthcoming.