Onstage, over the course of an opera, costumes seldom remain spotless. They are often transformed during the singers’ performances and by the action. They become stained, wet, torn, and are changed several times. It is up to the dressers to take care of them and work their magic between each performance to restore them to glory.
The dressers’ tasks include preparing and cleaning the costumes and accessories, as well as dressing the singers.
At the piano dress rehearsalPiano dress rehearsal - Dress rehearsal without the orchestra. , the costume passes from the Workshops into the hands of the dressers.
But the work of the dressers begins long before then, with the first rehearsals. They must observe the action onstage and time how long they will have to complete the costume changes, carry out cleaning tests on fabric samples, check how potential stains show up on the costumes, identify elements of staging that could alter the costume, attend the fittings to see how the costume is put together, etc.
Before the rehearsals, the production manager and her assistant also prepare the rehearsal costumes in accordance with the designs and measurements of the artists (it is important for the singers to have a sense of the costume they will be wearing; performing in a corset and crinoline is very different from performing in a swimsuit!).
Usually, there are only four rehearsals onstage in costume (the piano dress rehearsalPiano dress rehearsal - Dress rehearsal without the orchestra. , a stage-orchestra rehearsalStage-orchestra rehearsal - Stage rehearsal with staging and the orchestra , the pre-dress rehearsalPre-dress rehearsal - Stage rehearsal with the orchestra, played without interruption. , and the final dress rehearsalFinal dress rehearsal - The last stage rehearsal with the orchestra before the premiere, played without interruption. ). The dressers must therefore possess extraordinary organisational skills, speed, and practicality. The permanent team, which is composed of one team leader and three productions managers, is joined by several additional dressers (from 2 to 17) starting the day before with the piano dress rehearsal.
One dresser dresses 1 to 4 soloists. It is a personal and intimate process that requires discretion, care, and trust.
For Les Huguenots (2011 and 2022), 17 dressers were tasked with dressing 17 soloists and 73 chorus members, dancers, and extras, a total of 128 costumes (including 48 coats of armour and 84 capes). Over the course of the show, no fewer than 47 costume changes had to be made!
The team is present before, during, and after the show.
Before the show all the costumes are cleaned, prepared with care in the dressing room, and checked against a detailed inventory (1 to 2 hours’ preparation). Then, the stage must be prepared for any rapid changes. One hour before the show, the dressing of the singers begins in their dressing rooms.
During the show, the dressers team must often remain on stand-by for costume changes. These can be extremely rapid. For Powder Her Face (2015), a head-to-toe change had to be carried out in 30 seconds, which required five dressers. Less commonly, changes are made onstage and the dressers themselves wear a costume, like in Foxie! (2017).
After the show, everything must be put away, the costumes gathered up, the checks carried out, and the laundry started. Between each show, almost all the costumes are cleaned, ironed, then packed away in numbered baskets before being returned to the dressing rooms.
The team makes its own 100% natural products for cleaning and maintaining the costumes. They are composed of simple and environmentally conscious ingredients. Special care is also taken to reduce packaging and containers.
The dressers’ secret for disinfecting the costumes without putting them through the machine? Vodka! Colourless, it can be applied to all the textiles to deodorise them instantly.