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To create this gown, costume designer Suzanne Mess studied dresses in late 18th-century oil painting
Photo by Michael Visser

A Night at the Opera

Faculty of Music's wardrobe room houses over 50 period dresses

Turn up the hem of this powder blue dress, and you’ll see that the gown has been shortened since it was originally created for Frances Ginzer, an opera student from Calgary. In 1980, Ginzer wore the dress to play Countess Almaviva in a U of T production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This fall, Ginzer (Dip Op Perf 1981) is starring as Brünnhilde in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. A sought-after soprano, Ginzer has earned standing ovations as a guest soloist in some of the world’s most hallowed opera halls.

To create this gown, costume designer Suzanne Mess studied dresses in late 18th-century oil paintings. Then she exaggerated the features of those dresses. Where the original garment might have been trimmed with delicate beads, Mess sewed on two rows of sturdy bows. There can be nothing subtle about an opera costume, as its message has to reach the back row. This richly decorated gown makes it perfectly clear that Almaviva is an aristocrat. With its full skirt and tight bodice, you certainly couldn’t do any work while wearing it!

While Ginzer performs in Hamburg, Zurich, Cologne, Munich and Stuttgart, her dress remains stowed in the Faculty of Music’s wardrobe room at the Edward Johnson Building along with about 50 other period dresses. The costumes are sewn with extra-wide seams so they can be taken in or let out, ready to fit the opera world’s next shining star.

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