‘Every detail is essential’: Costuming LA Opera's ‘Turandot’


LA Opera’s costume artists spend hundreds of hours on details and fabrication before any notes are sung. Photo by Oliva Richard.

At a warehouse on the outskirts of Downtown Los Angeles' Garment District, the LA Opera Costume Shop is a hub of creativity and craftsmanship, bustling with final preparations for this season's grand finale, Puccini's Turandot, opening May 18

The atmosphere hums with productivity, as a team of about 30 artisans manage up to 1,000 costumes each season. Tables and mannequins are covered with fabric swatches and brightly colored sketches. One station focuses on hard-tailoring, primarily for men's costumes, while another handles mechanical engineering and animal creations, such as creature suits, prosthetics, and padding. There are also two teams dedicated to women's wear, with one specifically working on understructures essential for period accuracy, as undergarments historically dictate the fit and flow of dresses.

At the LA Opera Costume Shop, thousands of general stock pieces are meticulously organized, including tunics, undergarments, shoes, jackets, and skirts. These versatile essentials are reused year-round in a number myriad of productions. Photo by Oliva Richard.

Set in a fantastical version of China, the opera is a maximalist celebration of color and one of the largest productions of the season.

The costumes, designed by Ian Falconer in collaboration with pop artist David Hockney, play a pivotal role.

"The colors in the costumes have to work in tandem with the production design,” explains costume supervisor Miranda Orellana. The sets use “a lot of primary colors and strong, bold color blocking."

Pop artist David Hockney collaborated with costume designer Ian Falconer to craft the wardrobe for LA Opera's production of “Turandot.” From bold hues to intricate textures, the costumes inform both the artists’ performances and the audience's experiences. Photo by Oliva Richard.

The LA Opera frequently rents out entire productions to or from other companies. For Turandot, the Costume Shop adapted 236 outfits borrowed from the San Francisco Opera to fit the new cast. A considerable amount of effort is required. 

"The robe for Turandot alone features eight different trims, including metallic lame," Orellana explains. “It’s a process that involves close collaboration with artisans to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the original designs.”

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt to source those rare and specific trims needed, or to recreate it from scratch to try to match the vision as closely as possible,” says Turandot costume supervisor Miranda Orellana. “I think that's like my favorite part.” Photo by Oliva Richard.

Wearing the costumes is no small task either. 

"The costume in this production is heavy, which adds a tremendous amount of gravitas to our performances," says Julian Ahn, the tenor who plays the role of Pong. "Every movement we make is influenced by the costume. It lends a grandeur to our actions, affecting even the whimsical and comical moments on stage."

The robe for the lead character in “Turandot” features eight different trims, including metallic lame. Updating the costumes involves collaborating with artisans to ensure accuracy and consistency with the original designs. Photo by Oliva Richard.

To prepare for the physical demands of their performances, the Costume Shop crafts specialized rehearsal garments that help performers adjust to their roles. These garments replicate the weight and feel of the actual costumes, aiding in mastering the challenging movements and intricate choreography needed for an uneven, raked stage.

“Opera is a full-body activity, and heavy costumes can significantly challenge their stamina,” notes production stage manager Whitney McAnally.



Olivia Richard