Stories from the Opera House:

The Sarasota Opera Costume Studio 

By Richard Russell, General Director

Many things keep us occupied after our opera season concluded at the end of March. Maestro DeRenzi and the artistic staff need to finish casting our next season, Youth Opera continues through the end of the school year in May, the Sarasota Opera House is busy with performances by outside organizations, including La Musica International Chamber Music Festival, the Sarasota Film Festival, the Sarasota Orchestra and Ballet, and other community groups. Our Patron Services team are processing subscription orders, and our Development Staff are focused on fiscal year-end fundraising. 

A constant year-round activity is our costume rental business. In 2019 we purchased the opera costume collection from Malabar Ltd., a Toronto-based company who had the largest opera costume stock in North America and of whom we have been clients for over 30 years. Our timing wasn’t great, but who could have predicted a worldwide pandemic that would shutter opera and theater companies for the good part of two years? Since opera houses began to reopen in earnest in 2022, we have begun to build up our costume rental activities. In 2022-2023 it will have generated $320,000 in revenue for Sarasota Opera. 

Since our 2023 season ended, Howard Tsvi Kaplan, resident costume designer, and John Tully, costume administrator, have spent their time fielding requests from other opera and theater companies, reaching out to potential clients, and fulfilling the numerous orders that we’ve booked. 

Every week Howard and John receive inquiries from potential clients, as many as 10-20 a week, some of which turn into a firm contract. With each request, they need to find out how many costumes are needed, in what sizes, and make sure that the production isn’t already booked. The inquiries include complete opera productions, but also include theater and film projects. Sometimes we provide a few costumes for theaters that are missing pieces (for example we recently provided nun costumes to complete a production) and Mr. Kaplan has designed opera productions for other companies, using our costume stock. 

It's a busy business and coordination is important. For example, our costumes for Bizet’s Carmen will have been used by three opera companies before returning to Sarasota for our production next winter. And we occasionally must turn down inquiries because the costumes have already been booked elsewhere. We’ve had multiple requests for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Verdi’s La traviata next season, but we’ve had to opt out of some productions because the costumes are already booked elsewhere.  

John Tully and Howard Tsvi Kaplan at the Sarasota Opera Costume rental booth at the Opera America Conference in Pittsburgh, May 2023

John Tully and Howard Tsvi Kaplan at the Sarasota Opera Costume Rental booth at the Opera America Conference in Pittsburgh, May 2023 

This past week Howard and John were at the Opera America Conference in Pittsburgh. This large gathering of opera companies (there were more than 700 attendees) is a great place to promote our costume rentals and talk directly with opera companies, directors, designers, and even composers and librettists. We made many connections and were able to dispel some misconceptions. For example, although we have many period costumes in the collection, we also have a fair number of more contemporary clothes, which give a designer some flexibility.