It’s all in the details! I’m not talking about the thousands of notes that go into every opera production. I’m talking about all the work that goes into styling each performer to make their character believable and help make their story come to life. This summer the San Francisco Opera is presenting La Bohème and I got to go backstage in the dressing rooms and get a tutorial on Mimi’s hair and makeup with expert stylists, Jeanna Parham and Ashley Joyce.
To give you a background on Mimi’s story; she is a seamstress who lives next door to the main character in La Bohème, Rodolfo who is a poet. When she knocks on his door and asks for him to light her candle, they instantly fall in love – love at first sight!
(You may be familiar with the Broadway hit RENT!! Yes, this is the original Rent and the inspiration behind the famous song “Light My Candle“.)
Mimi is sick with tuberculosis. The two are very poor and can not afford medicine so her sickness becomes worse as the story continues. Rodolfo feels so guilty about not being able to provide her with the proper medicine that he leaves her out of fake jealousy so that she will find a wealthier suitor. Will they end up back together? Will she live? Well, my friend, that is for me to know and for you to find out at the San Francisco Opera this summer.
Now on to the tutorial…
When I walked in the door of the dressing rooms, I was greeted with a full spread of makeup brushes, lipsticks, rouges, and eyeshadows. A lot of their products were from MAC – a personal favorite! I was surprised to find out that the San Francisco Opera stylists personalize makeup kits for every singer and chorus member, even the men. That’s a lot of makeup!
They started off the transformation by pinning up my hair in tiny pin-curls and then putting a net over my hair to keep it out of my face. Next, they began to do a base layer with a primer and powders to shape my face and get “the canvas” ready for all the colors!
The most expressive parts of the face are the eyes and the mouth, so to emphasize the drama and the character’s mood they highlight these features with shadows and liners. The way the artists looks in the dressing room is different from how they look under the stage lights so Ashely and Jeanna watch the dress rehearsals to make sure each performers makeup and wig are accentuated from the audiences’ point of view.
With dark crease lines on my eyelids, filled in eyebrows and eyelash extensions, my eyes were starting to POP! To continue this bold look, Ashely lined my lips with a darker lip liner so that my mouth would be easily seen, even from the balcony. She then filled in my lip color with a lighter tone to create contrast. Lip gloss is not typically used in opera because it reflects too much light from the stage and is not appropriate for La Bohème’s time period.
To finish off the look, they revealed this fabulous wig (made by Jeanna) that was hand tied with real hair. I was shocked to hear that each wig takes up to forty to sixty hours to make! That’s two and a half FULL days of work… for ONE wig. Nuts. When they placed the wig on my head, the complete vision of Mimi came to life. To keep the wig from coming off, they used bobby pins to secure the wig onto my pin-curls. Sometimes, performers will even wear a mic that’s tucked in their wig that can hardly be seen at the top of forehead.
I had so much fun becoming Mimi and being styled by the expert stylists Ashely and Jeanna. If you’d like to watch the full transformation that was entirely filmed on Facebook Live, click here!