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The tricks of the trade: Apprentices outfit Santa Fe Opera stars

SANTA FE, N.M. — A yellow measuring tape necklacing her throat, Brianna Fristoe carefully knotted a silky bow tie around a mannequin’s neck.

The costume apprentice was “building” outfits for a golf course scene from Berlioz’s comic Shakespeare-meets-opera “Benedict and Beatrice.”

Two mannequins in the Santa Fe Opera costume shop sported breeches, ties and vests in an explosion of argyle diamonds. Fristoe draped one figure in mostly white with windowpane breeches, while she transformed the second into a festival of bad fairway style, complete with a red plaid vest, green plaid breeches and argyle socks.

“I’m trying to bring back the breeches to make it even more ridiculous,” she said. “They come in on a golf cart having a ‘bro’ talk about Beatrice.”

She scrounged a pair of pink argyle socks for the caddy.


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Fristoe is one of 73 apprentice technicians and 43 apprentice singers preparing for the Santa Fe Opera’s annual “Apprentice Scenes” concerts on Aug. 11 and 18. The scenes are fully staged and costumed by the novice artists. Opera staff members chose the technicians from 700 applicants; the singers came from 1,000 hopefuls. The Aug. 11 program features excerpts from “Don Giovanni,” “Beatrice and Benedict,” “Don Pasquale,” “Boulevard Solitude,” “Carmen,” “Count Ory,” “Ariodante” and “Falstaff.” The Aug. 18 lineup includes scenes from “Elektra,” “Billy Budd,” “Lakme,” “The Bartered Bride,” “Die Fledermaus,” “Giulio Cesare,” “Doubt” and “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

The costume apprentices also stitch clothing for the SFO’s five productions: “Oscar,” “La Donna Del Lago,” “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “La Traviata.” They may also work in crafts or in the millinery shop.

“They become part of the wardrobe staff and work with the singers,” SFO costume director Erica Burds said.

The costume apprentices usually come from a theater background. Opera demands a different approach to wardrobe.

“Usually with a singer, they’re much more concerned with the breath they can take and how loose is this” clothing, Burds said. “They need motion and movement. That’s something new to (the apprentices). Usually, they’re thinking, ‘This is my character.’

“Singers tend to stand differently than actors,” Burds added. “Women may stand forward, so they have to adjust for that with the hems.”

Brianna Fristoe of Santa Fe, one of 73 apprentice technicians, adjusts a bow tie in the costume shop at the Santa Fe Opera. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Brianna Fristoe of Santa Fe, one of 73 apprentice technicians, adjusts a bow tie in the costume shop at the Santa Fe Opera. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

When the individual production scenes debut, each costume apprentice creates her own ensembles from the opera’s extensive stock stashed in a basement beneath Stieren Hall, the orchestra’s rehearsal hall.


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To participate, each must pen a cover letter explaining why they want to work with a specific director on a particular scene.

“It’s like applying for a job,” Burds said.

The directors try to be specific while still giving the apprentices some freedom.

“They’ll talk about, ‘I want to set it in the 1950s in a picnic scene,’ ” Burds explained.

This summer marks Fristoe’s second year as an apprentice. The 30-year-old Santa Fe resident worked for a friend in London on costumes for such pictures as “High School Musical 1 and 2,” “Ratatouille” and “Yes Men.” She also studied at the London College of Fashion.

“I enjoy styling a lot,” she said.

“I collect lace and silk,” the acknowledged fabric junkie added. “I’m always hoarding fabric.”

“She’s very quiet, but she picks up a lot of things,” Burds said of Fristoe. “She has a different eye, because she has a background in fashion, which is refreshing for us.”

Fristoe recently designed her own swimwear line she hopes to sell online. She also wants to design clothing for modern dancers.

“I’m obsessed with Russian constructivism and geometry,” she said. “I’m obsessed with the Ballets Russes.” Sarah Wyman, 23, worked on clothing for scenes from “Don Pasquale” and “Die Fledermaus.” The Los Alamos resident has been stitching and styling since May.

Wyman researched the opera’s period costume books, as well as her own, to glean ideas for a stage silhouette.

“I’m looking for a high-waisted skirt that has a flair or is fitted to the knee,” she said. “And a sleeveless top because (my director) wanted her to be fun and flirty.”

Wyman is dressing the character of Norina in “Fledermaus,” who enters disguised in a plain beige overcoat. She pretends to be an innocent convent girl to fool the character of Ernesto. Eventually, she removes her outer clothing to reveal a spaghetti-strapped black cocktail minidress cinched in a floral scarf.

“She becomes this hip girl who wants to spend his money,” Wyman explained. “It’s conveying a character.”

Clothing can signal age, status, social class or even race, she said.

Wyman came to the opera on the recommendation of her University of New Mexico professor, Burds said. She has been attending the opera since she was a child, which was a plus, Burds added.

“She is constantly asking questions,” Burds said. “She just wants to soak in knowledge. She’s always experimenting.”

Wyman’s mother taught her how to sew dolls’ dresses. Her interest in costuming flourished after she took a college class. Now she hopes to enter the film industry. Keira Knightley —— of “Pride and Prejudice” fame —— is her dream model.

“Keira Knightley does the period shows and that’s my obsession,” Wyman said, ” —— long skirts and bustles.”

Fristoe has already dressed a star; she made Joyce DiDonato’s skirt in this summer’s Santa Fe production of “La Donna Del Lago.”

“It’s a cotton/linen skirt,” she said. “It’s sort of peasant-y. It’s going to the Met.”