While we love exploring people’s closets around the world, when we were invited to to check out the Metropolitan Opera’s costume department and wig shop, we knew it was going to be an unbelievable experience. Just think of classic operas like La bohème, Carmen, and Don Giovanni—the actors onstage are always decked out in stunning period looks from head to toe. While it may look effortless, the reality is there’s an entire underground army (truly, the shops are located under the Opera’s Lincoln Center home stage) planning, sewing, dyeing, and fitting for months—sometimes years—before the stars ever hit the stage.
Elissa Iberti and Tera Willis—heads of the costume and wig departments, respectively—were more than willing to show us around their domains. Aside from getting to dig through racks of bejeweled gowns and elaborate wigs, we were surprised to learn how much detail goes into every single piece of an actor’s look. For example, those intricate hair pieces are all sewn individually...by hand. Think about how many hairs are on your head! Patience is a virtue in this type of career.
Both women possess an almost encyclopedic knowledge of dozens of operas from The Met’s repertory—a necessity when there’s no break in their rolling season until summer—and consistently manage to interpret designers’, directors’, and performers’ visions for how a production should look. Despite all of the last-minute deadlines and the occasional vendor mishap, the show must go on, and thanks to the efforts of these two departments, there’s no shortage of drama or glamour onstage.