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A Behind-the-Scenes Peek at the Washington National Opera’s Costume Shop

All 138 costumes for the new production of La Traviata came from here.
A Behind-the-Scenes Peek at the Washington National Opera’s Costume Shop
Photograph by Lexey Swall.

It can take more than 100 hours to make just one of the costumes used by the Washington National Opera in its performances. The 2018–19 season opens this month with a new production of La Traviata at the Kennedy Center, and in August the costume shop—located in a 20,000-square-foot space in Takoma DC—was a flurry of activity. The 11-person team (plus an additional ten temps during crunch time) was stitching together what would eventually be 138 new costumes for the show.

Each of the elaborate outfits—including a burgundy dress (left) to be worn by a member of the chorus—started out as a sketch by Jess Goldstein, the Tony-winning costume designer for this production. After a long process involving paper patterns and multiple pieces of fabric, the costumes finally started to come to life.

Given the size and complexity of La Traviata, the shop was buzzing on this Friday afternoon. “We will be rushing to make it,” said WNO costume director Marsha M. LeBoeuf. “It’s part of the stress, but it’s also part of the excitement.”

The last step is a final fitting, which can provide its own challenges. “One of our singers has been in Europe over the summer and thinks there may have been a meal or two too many,” said LeBoeuf. “So we adjust, you know? We are prepared for all contingencies. It’s what we do.”

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

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Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She previously was the editorial assistant at Walter Magazine in Raleigh, North Carolina, and freelanced for PoPVille and DCist. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Adams Morgan.