4,000 Opera Costumes. One Giant Fantasy Sale.

4,000 Opera Costumes. One Giant Fantasy Sale.

AMSTERDAM — The frog with the skippy ball must go.

So must the resurrected mummy. And the giant ladybug. And that blood-splattered gown.

These items, along with classic doublets, frocks and imaginary creatures, were among about 4,000 costumes the Dutch National Opera put up for sale to the public on Saturday.

Why? Storage is stuffed.

“At some point, the stock room explodes,” Robby Duiveman, the director of the opera’s costume, wigs and makeup department, said in an interview on Friday. He has overseen three such sales in his 18 years at the opera. But this is the first one the opera has had in nine years.

Pieces of the Dutch National Opera’s recent history — the sweat, the drama, the flecks of fake blood — may end up at other opera houses or in the closets of avant-garde dressers. The house plans to keep its prized pieces for its archives.

“I never sell the entire production,” Mr. Duiveman explained. “We always keep all the principals. If I have 40 chorus members, I sell 30 and save 10. Anything that might be useful for a future exhibition — something from a famous singer, or a world premiere, or something that has a special material — those things I will keep. We build up our archive, but at some point we just have to say goodbye to some of them.”

Known for commissioning interesting, postmodern new work with collaborators such as the artists Anish Kapoor and William Kentridge and the director Peter Sellars, and with a history of both starkly minimalist and classical productions, the Dutch National Opera has an in-house department that builds hundreds of costumes a year.

The costume sales are incredibly popular — the 2,000 available tickets for this one sold out online in 37 minutes. Here is a tiny selection of the whimsical and fantastical costumes on sale, which date to the 1970s but were used in recent productions.

Frog with skippy ball

CreditHeba Khamis for New York Times

Opera Production:Het Sluwe Vosje” (The Cunning Little Vixen), by Leos Janacek (2010/2011)

Price: 300 euros (about $373; the most expensive)

“The 12-year-old boy who wore this costume had just one entrance on stage, and he just skippied on the skippy ball from stage left to right,” Mr. Duiveman recalled. “I remember sometimes he was too enthusiastic and jumped too high, so we had to practice a lot.”

Court jacket: male chorus member

CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production:Castor and Pollox,” by Jean-Philippe Rameau (2007/2008)

Price: 125 euros

“This jacket is made of neoprene, which is wet-suit fabric. The great thing about this material is that you can cut it off and you don’t have to hem it; and it doesn’t fringe. And it turned out that when you dyed it, it created this wonderful texture. The opera had a very plain, abstract set, so the costumes became the set, in a way, with lots of these colorful pieces.”

Two gowns: one purple, one yellow

CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production:Ercole Amante,” by Francesco Cavalli (2009)

Price: 300 euros

“The entire chorus begins the opera in purple gowns and at the end of the opera, when Ercole becomes the new king, the son god, everyone appears in yellow. It’s a beautiful picture onstage with all these bright yellow gowns.”


CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production:Ercole Amante,” by Francesco Cavalli (2009)

Price: 50 euros

“There’s a scene in which one of the principals goes to the graveyard and the set was a kind of ‘Thriller’ moment from Michael Jackson where all these mummies came out of the coffins and performed this baroque dance number and then go back into their coffins. To make these, the actors came in with cat suits and we had to wrap them up in all these bandages, and then stitch the bandages onto the cat suit by hand.”

Rococo pastoral gown

CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production: “Così fan tutte,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1997)

Price: 150 euros

“A famous German designer once said, ‘When you use details in the costume, they won’t be seen, but if you leave them out, they’ll be missed.’ This little rococo costume was a chorus dress for a pastoral scene, and the fabrics all have leaves and pictures of gardens with shepherds, and the 2-D front panel is made from an image from the rococo period. It might not be possible to see that detail from the audience, but we would miss it.”


CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera Production: “Cendrillon” (Cinderella), by Jules Massenet (1987)

Price: 200 euros

“A chorus member would have worn this at a ball with the prince. It’s very typical of the time it was made — very theatrical and bold. For me, it’s just about shape and form and function.”


CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production:Legende — De Ontsporing van Meneer Prikkebeen,” by Peter-Jan Wagemans (2010)

Price: 100 euros

“It’s from a Dutch world premiere that was only performed once. In one scene, there’s a world traveler who is confronted by these slimy men, opera singers, who come up out of the ground and frighten him. The slime is made of silicone. It has an umbilical cord to make them more monstrous.”

Gold doublet

CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production: Unknown, probably in the 1970s

Price: 90 euros

“This is one of the oldest items we have in our inventory, probably from around 1975. I don’t know what it is because in those days, we didn’t put production tags on the garments. It seems to be a dream-come-true-prince-on-a-white-horse costume. We have several of these in stock, but no trousers. Polyester brocade fabrics became very popular and affordable and therefore used a lot for costume design. Even if you’d like to copy this one to one, it would be difficult today.”

Black plastic gown: male chorus member

CreditHeba Khamis for The New York Times

Opera production:Tannhäuser,” by Richard Wagner (2007)

Price: 100 euros

“We had 120 people in this costume onstage at one time, the men with these huge petticoats, all walking down this huge staircase at the same time — very impressive looking. It’s a translation of a period piece” — from the 19th century — “but we wanted to use modern materials. This is basically made of plastic, made to look like hand-sculpted fabric.”

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