Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's Not TV. It's Opera.

It's not every day you get a wig fitting by an Emmy Award-nominee. Ronell Oliveri, the wig and make-up designer for our production of The Pearl Fishers, has not only been nominated for an Emmy but her work has been seen on TV and on the May 2008 cover of Opera News. Is she awesome and down-to-earth? You betcha. (Granted, I brought brownies to bribe her into letting me play with the wigs.) Ronell and her associate Sarah Opstad are wig goddesses. If the wigs for the production seem realistic – it's because they are. The wigs are made from real human hair and hand-sewn into lace mesh caps – which takes about 40 hours per wig! (A lot of smaller regional companies use synthetic wigs.)

Since everyone's head is shaped differently, a mold is made of the person's head so the mesh cap will fit perfectly. Then the gals use ventilating needles to sew the hair into the wig. The hair comes on a "weft," which is almost like a curtain of hair. The hair goes in about five or six strands at a time in the back and ONE strand at a time in the front. It's no wonder the wigs run about $1500-5000 to buy! So we rent the wigs from Ronell and she figures out what the wigs should look like for each character, since the wigs don't come with the costumes for a rental production. Ronell either starts from scratch or uses wigs from other shows to outfit the 60-some performers and has three other assistants besides Sarah to put the wigs and make-up on all the performers before the show. Bonus: I figured out how to post pictures on a slideshow - check it out on Flickr!

I stuck around for the wig fittings with Heidi Stober (Leila) and Brian Mulligan (Zurga) and I was amazed – it took less than 15 minutes! After the singers left for rehearsal, I hung around and chatted with the gals who taught me a lot about the art of wigs. Did you know the mannequin-looking head that wigs are kept on is called a block? Or that blocking is when you pin down the wig to prevent it from moving during styling and keeps it from getting ripped. I wanted to stay and learn a bunch more, but I was due at the second half of rehearsal.
Before I left, though, I got to try on one of the dancer wigs and see what I'd look like with black hair. Ronell and Sarah pinned my hair, slipped a stocking cap over it and got the wig into place. And the final result? I think I'll stick with my natural color! You know, there are days when I have a pretty cool job.

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