Great opera sweeps you up in the magic of beautiful music and powerful storytelling. But we’ll let you in on a secret: the magic is in the details. While some of the world’s greatest artists are dazzling you onstage at Houston Grand Opera, we have incredible artists minding the details behind the scenes. The talented staff of HGO’s Costumes and Wigs and Makeup departments are a major, but often unseen, part of what makes our operas shine.
“I love my job!” says Norma Cortez, HGO’s head of costumes. Norma has been with the company for over 19 years. “It’s always a challenge when you’re helping a diva and making sure that she can do her job, while satisfying the designer and making sure that everything looks good on stage. But we are always learning, always creating. When you see your work come together with all of the elements of the opera, it makes you feel really good.”
In the days before Hurricane Harvey flooded the Wortham Theater Center, completely destroying HGO’s costume shop and Wig and Makeup Department, nobody knew how bad the damage would be. “Many people were saying that nothing was going to happen,” said Norma, “For some reason, I had a weird feeling, so I thought, let’s move costumes upstairs.”
Thirty years of designs, fabrics, costume pieces, shoes, wigs, tools, and equipment were lost in the flood. But Norma’s flash of intuition saved the costumes for La traviata, Julius Caesar, and The Barber of Seville.
After the storm, Norma’s crew and our production staff set up a temporary shop in HGO’s offsite warehouse and worked around the clock to acquire the necessary materials to get the company ready for opening night at the HGO Resilience Theater. Traveling back and forth between the performance space and the warehouse has been a challenge for both the costumers and the performers. “It’s been a new experience here,” she says “We’re doing the best we can to keep positive morale… But we miss being connected.”
Dotti Staker, HGO’s Wig and Makeup Department head, and her team have also spent the season working offsite in a space that she built at her home. For 34 years, Dotti has helped define the look of HGO productions making beautiful wigs. From the blue bouffant updos that perfectly matched the Three Ladies’ dresses in The Magic Flute to Siegfried’s fresh-from-the-woods dreadlocks in the Ring cycle, Dotti’s touch in HGO productions is unmistakable. “I always looked at the wig shop as my legacy to HGO,” Dotti says. “But now it’s gone.”
A single wig can take 40 hours to build, and many of them cost thousands of dollars. During the flood, HGO lost about 3,000 wigs, valued at more than a million dollars. These losses are devastating, but Dotti has an even deeper legacy: She has trained countless wigmakers and makeup artists and defined beautiful and distinctive looks for countless performers with skill and ingenuity. Under Dotti’s guidance, her team has pulled off a breathtaking 2017–18 season, with resources that resemble what she started with in 1983.
Hurricane Harvey brought total devastation to HGO’s costume and wig shops, with the loss of 30 years of costume, wig, and makeup stock. But with your help, we can begin to rebuild all those supplies that make the magic of opera possible. Please help us “Stock the Shops” by making a donation to our Harvey Recovery Fund. Your gift helps guarantee that creative company members like Norma, Dotti, and their teams can surprise and delight you for many years to come.
To make a donation, click here.