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Friday, June 13, 2014

Susan Kulkarni hops across the pond to design The Marriage of Figaro

A sneak peek of The Marriage of Figaro costumes hanging in Central City Opera's Cast House dressing rooms with designer Susan Kulkarni
Susan Kulkarni flutters around the Opera House's second floor. She checks in on actors' fittings, holds design conversations with the wigs and makeup supervisor, and scoots costume pieces left and right on one of the floor's numerous z-racks. Always abuzz with work, Kulkarni continually remains tranquil and pleases others with her chirpy voice. She may be from England, but Kulkarni is making her nest in Colorado as The Marriage of Figaro's costume designer, the first show in Central City Opera's 2014 Festival.

Not only is it her first time living in the United States, but it's also the first time she's costume designing a major full-length opera. But don't let all the firsts fool you; Kulkarni is a seasoned and versatile designer. Her website boasts an impressive amount of experience in theatre, dance, film, and television for such a fresh-faced artist. Opera is just the next project on Kulkarni's list of theatrical mediums to conquer. 

Costume Designer Susan Kulkarni
Does this maid's outfit remind you of any popular television show? Stay tuned!
"It's a funny thing because a lady at the National [Theatre in London] recommended me to [director Alessandro Talevi]," she said. "It turned out when he wrote my number in his phone that we actually had worked together eleven years ago on a tiny little opera, so we did know each other but in passing. He said, 'Oh, Susan, great!'" 

Kulkarni has designed upwards of 60 costumes for The Marriage of Figaro, opening on June 28 at the Central City Opera House. Costume designers often yearn to create each dress, undergarment, and accessory from scratch in order to align a unified composition. More often, however, time and money get in the way. "It always comes down to budget," Kulkarni said. "It can cost $1,000 just to make a jacket. It's an expensive business." Instead of building each piece, designers frequently borrow costumes from other companies and then rework them. Luckily for Kulkarni (and Central City Opera), many of this show's costumes will be borrowed from the hit British television show Downton Abbey

Kulkarni's costume sketch for Susannah in Act I, The Marriage of Figaro

Costume sketch of the Count
Kulkarni served as an assistant costume designer during season two and was able to pull some strings to borrow a few costumes. Opera patrons will have to play a bit of "Where's Waldo" while watching The Marriage of Figaro to try and spy the original pieces. Though she calls her connection to Downton Abbey "slightly nepotistic," Kulkarni simply found work as many people do in the arts: with equal doses of diligence and moxie. "I had a contact who knew the costume designer there, and I set myself up with her and said, 'Hello!'"  

Though she has taken on other projects since Downton Abbey, Kulkarni remains proud of the show's enduring success even here in the States. "In England, if you say [Downton Abbey] everyone knows what it is, and it feels like it's the same here. [Americans] appreciate period dramas; it's great that it's been embraced." Fortunately, The Marriage of Figaro is another period piece that will flaunt Kulkarni's detailed design. Talevi has decided to set the show in 1920s antebellum Spain. This allows Kulkarni to dabble with glitzy flapper costumes and unadorned servant ones alike, reflecting a time in Spain when some embraced bobbed hair and lower waistlines while others grasped onto turn-of-the-century traditions.
Costume sketch of the Countess
Designing dozens of costumes for The Marriage of Figaro has certainly kept Kulkarni busy, but she still manages to enjoy the sights of Central City during her stay here. "It's really refreshing to just leave your home and go for a hike in the mountains. I'm really enjoying it," she smiled. Given the staggering altitude on her morning hikes, Kulkarni is learning firsthand the necessity of breath control in opera. "We're using a lot of stiff collars, so during fittings we've ascertained if we're going to choke the singers to death," she joked. "But designing for opera is an absolute delight because you have a team of people who really enjoy what they're doing; there's a lot of passion here."

Want more of the inside scoop? Join us for Opera Inside Out, Tuesday, June 17th in Central City. Tickets are just $10 and include a performance by our Ensemble Artists as well as a behind-the-scenes tour. The Marriage of Figaro runs June 28 to July 26.

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