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The L.A. Opera cleans it closets

Need a Halloween outfit? More than 2,500 costumes are for sale today

October 10, 2009|David Ng

When you've dressed hundreds, perhaps thousands of performers over the course of more than 20 years, your wardrobe is bound to get crowded with the old and the outdated.

Los Angeles Opera is putting more than 2,500 items up for sale today from its costume department in downtown L.A. (The sale runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 330 S. Alameda St.)

Some of the clothes hitting the racks were worn by such stars as Placido Domingo, Karita Mattila and Carol Vaness. The sale also includes costumes from productions by Robert Wilson ("Parsifal"), Maurice Sendak ("Idomeneo") and David Cronenberg ("The Fly").

The costume sale comes at a time when the company is attempting to grow artistically while facing significant financial obstacles. The ambitious $32 million "Ring" cycle is eating up a good portion of the company's resources as the recession is putting pressure on donations.

The company denied that the costume purge is a "garage sale" and said that the event is intended to make room for the department's growing inventory. "We don't have any room and we can't afford more storage," said Jennifer Green, the head of the costume department.

Currently, the department occupies a 28,000-square-foot facility on Alameda Street in downtown. It also uses a smaller storage space in El Monte. Both facilities are rented at a total cost of about $400,000 per year, according to the company.

L.A. Opera said it had originally hoped the costume sale would enable it to vacate the El Monte location. But due to the demands of the "Ring" cycle and other projects, it has decided to maintain both facilities.

Buyers will find that prices vary dramatically. Those wanting to purchase a silk sari that Domingo wore in "Idomeneo" or a dyed and painted cotton skirt that he wore in "Samson and Delila" can expect to pay $1,500 to $5,000.

A giant rubber and latex Brundle- fly suit from "The Fly" is going for $10,000, complete with a display case.

Some costumes come with interesting back stories. Mattila, the Finnish soprano who performed in "Jenufa," went through numerous pairs of socks before finding the right kind with the perfect elasticity. (Yes, you can purchase the pair that she ultimately chose to wear onstage.)

The majority of items for sale will be masks and other accessories going for as little as $10. Some costumes are from so-called "dead" productions that the company will not revive, including "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and the critically panned "Nicholas & Alexandra."

Even though performers perspire, buyers need not fear they will be purchasing smelly clothes. "They've all been thoroughly cleaned," said Green, the company's head of costumes.

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david.ng@latimes.com

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