Skip to main content
Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2010 7 years ago

Costume couture

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Howard Tsvi Kaplan walks up Pineapple Avenue, lugging an oversized box of helmets from “Joan of Arc.” The box looks heavy — and Kaplan looks tired.

Setting it on a table inside the courtyard at the Sarasota Opera House, Kaplan, Sarasota Opera’s resident costume designer for 13 seasons, insists the package weighs nothing. The singers don’t wear real armor. It’s hot enough on stage without having to don plates of steel. The helmets are made out of light, noiseless aluminum.

Though the organization is in the throes of its winter season, Kaplan is emanating with a kind of end-of-the-school-year relief. In a few days, he’ll leave Sarasota to begin working on costumes for the San Antonio and Kentucky operas.

“‘Joan (‘Giovanni d’Arco’)’ was a big build,” the 49-year-old designer says, his gray ponytail whipping in the wind. “Everything was constructed here.”

The rare Verdi opera called for 70 to 80 costumes, almost all of which appear at once on stage for four-and-a-half minutes of music.

To pad out his medieval-warrior wardrobe, Kaplan purchased uniforms from war re-enactment companies; dyed the fabric and distressed the aluminum; attached grommets and fleur-de-lis appliqués (a French lily seen on European coasts of arms); and made chainmail by mounting silvery knits on heavy gray body stockings.

The one style of costume he didn’t need to order was peasant garb. Sarasota Opera’s wardrobe inventory is as fully stocked with peasant attire as it is boots.

“My first year, we bought 20 pairs of boots,” says Kaplan, who was hired in 1998, after working several years as the resident costume designer at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. “Now we have about 200 pairs of boots.”

He runs down the list of boots: Renaissance boots, Civil War boots, riding boots, boots with zippers and boots with snaps. He has boots to fit small children and boots to fit hulking men, including one pair of size-17, custom-made boots so large they look freakish beside the other shoes.

Like many local theaters, the opera has a storage facility off Tallevast Road near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Kaplan squirrels away every scrap of fabric he’s ever used.

“You never know when you’ll need it,” he says.

Case in point: Kaplan recently pulled from his reserves a swatch of matching cloth to sew over a set of painful hooks running up the back of a tunic.

“You have to have a plan for everybody and everything,” he says. “People always ask me, ‘Well, what is your real job?’ I tell them it takes six hours just to label socks and underwear for one production. There’s so much organization involved. The job is about much more than pretty clothes.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].

Related Stories