Rare Lyric Opera Costume Sale Lets Even Those Who Can't Sing Embrace Their Inner Divas

Oct 9, 2017

Granted, people tend to think about dressing up this time of year. But even those who don't normally consider donning Cleopatra’s headdress, waltzing in Cinderella’s ball gown or vamping like a starlet might find something they need at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City Opera Costume Sale

It's also a chance for opera fans to take home a piece of theater history on Saturday, when the company sells hundreds of decommissioned costumes from productions like "Aida," "Giulio Cesare," "The Magic Flute," "John Brown," and "I Capuleti e i Montecchi."

Deborah Sandler, the Lyric's general director, says the diverse array of costumes, headdresses, gowns, wigs, suits and shoes offers something special for everyone.

“All sorts of festive adornments that one might want to don for an appropriate fantasy occasion,” says Sandler. “Be it Halloween or some sort of a costume ball.”
 

Foat wears a lush velvet robe and Blodgett poses in an aqua, 1930s-style silk dress.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.9FM

One highlight of the sale is a lavender, fur-lined dress worn by Joyce DiDonato during the 2004 production of "La Cenerentola," Rossini’s opera of the tale of Cinderella. Whoever purchases this gown will also receive an autographed photo of DiDonato wearing the dress onstage.

Sandler says it is routine for opera companies to sell off old costumes, but the Lyric hasn't opened its theatrical wardrobe to the public since a rummage sale before the company moved to its new home in the East Crossroads in 2012.

“There’s tons of stuff in here,” says Sarah Zsohar, the Lyric's artist services manager, who is in charge of organizing the sale. Prices start at $3 and run up to $1,500 for a pristine silk wedding dress from the 1930s.
 

A rack of decommissioned costumes represents a small sample of the hundreds of items for sale later this month.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.9FM

“I am always surprised that our costume girls aren’t incredibly buff from how heavy the costumes are,” says Zsohar, laughing as she lifts a heavily beaded dress from a rack. “Especially period dress. They’re so heavy!”

“I think people should wear vintage clothes all the time,” says local fashion podcaster Betsy Blodgett, who agreed to help model some of the wares for KCUR's photo shoot at the Richard J. Stern Opera Center.

Blodgett, who hosts the makers podcast Hello Atelier, says she likes to incorporate costume-like elements into everyday attire.

Also modeling, on her lunch break from KCPT where she works as a community engagement producer, is Lindsey Foat.

“It feels wonderful,” Foat says of a Gatsby-style dress. “It’s completely glamorous putting on these things that are weighted with velvet and beads. I would dress all the time like this if I could.”
 

Blodgett (left) lights up an electric blue and purple dress, while Foat masquerades in a feathered carnival mask.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.9FM

Civil War re-enactors, meanwhile, might find interesting props and costumes from the 2008 world premiere of Kirke Mechem's "John Brown."

“There are things they would probably make themselves that might cost them time and money,” Zsohar says. “Here you can just come and buy it from us readymade.”

Even Sandler says she’s taken a turn in the dressing room.

“I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I didn’t admit to trying on a few pieces,” she says. “There’s nothing like putting on a big, regal costume or something from centuries ago to just make you see the day in a whole different way.”

Or you could just make your regular wardrobe really sing, Zsohar says.

“You can come in and find yourself a $10 dress shirt and $100 suit," she says, "and make yourself look like a million bucks for just a regular business meeting.”

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City Costume Sale, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, October 14, at the Richard J. Stern Opera Center, 712 East 18th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.