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Personal protection equipment that sings

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wears a mask featuring the logo of Santa Fe Opera that was made by the opera’s costume shop. (Courtesy of Santa Fe International Opera)

The costume shop at the Santa Fe Opera is on pins and needles.

Even as summer music and arts festivals around the world are being canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the opera has yet to make a decision. In a recent letter to patrons, Santa Fe Opera General Director Robert Meya said an announcement will be coming on May 12.

In the meantime, the costume shop is proceeding as if it’s business as usual. Well, almost.

In addition to stitching up designs for such planned 2020 productions as “The Barber of Seville” and the August world premiere of “M. Butterfly,” the costume shop has been making masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to help arm health care responders against the perils of COVID-19.

One of the masks has received top billing from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has been donning protective gear during her virtual press conferences.

The maroon mask with the Santa Fe Opera insignia that Lujan Grisham wore recently may not have gotten as much attention as the bright yellow one with the zia symbol that resembles the New Mexico flag, but opera lovers couldn’t miss her tribute to one of Santa Fe’s most beloved institutions.

Since the costume shop doesn’t have an embroidery machine, the opera’s logo on the mask worn by Lujan Grisham was sewn by hand, costume shop director Missy West said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind mask,” she said. “We’re very proud that the governor wore it.”

West is also very excited about the outfit for China’s late Chairman Mao, which will be featured in “M. Butterfly,” whether it premieres this year or next. Scheduled to make its world debut Aug. 1, “M. Butterfly” is based on Huang Ruo’s 1988 Tony Award-winning Broadway play of the same name.

Both the opera and the play were inspired by the real-life story about a 20-year love affair between a French diplomat and a star of the Peking Opera.

In the meantime, washable gowns sewn by West’s staff have been playing a starring role at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. Many of the protective outfits were sewn by Santa Fe Opera volunteers at home. The creations were in response to a call by the hospital for gear that the opera staff saw on Facebook, West said. “It’s really a grassroots movement,” she said.

The gowns for Christus St. Vincent are made from water-resistant nylon that was sourced and approved by the hospital. The costume shop and its volunteers have been sewing between 7 and 10 gowns per day. The community initiative, which drew on the efforts of 16 groups, is committed to making a total of 16,000 gowns – or 1,000 from each group.

Now that the Christus St. Vincent staff is properly outfitted, West said, the opera is shipping gowns and masks to the Navajo Nation, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus.

As to the fate of the costume shop’s efforts if the Santa Fe Opera’s 2020 season is canceled or curtailed, West is philosophical.

“All of our work is going to be used at some point. None of it is going to end up in the dumpster,” she said.