Dressing It Up

Sarasota Opera Acquires Major Opera Costume Collection

The announcement was part of an update about the opera's $40 million comprehensive campaign.

Photography by Kay Kipling October 8, 2019

Sarasota Opera executive director Richard Russell and artistic director Victor DeRenzi

Image: Staff

More than 30,000 costumes used in opera productions across North America—some worn by the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne--have been acquired by the Sarasota Opera, as the company has purchased them from long-established, Toronto-based Malabar, Ltd.

Sarasota Opera executive director Richard Russell and artistic director Victor De Renzi made the official announcement Oct. 8 at the opera house, as part of a larger announcement of the public phase of its ongoing $40 million comprehensive campaign, “Investing in the Extraordinary.” Approximately $35 million of that goal has already been raised, designed to position the opera for the future through an increase in annual giving, growth of its endowment and to provide funding for capital projects.

Some of the costumes acquired by Sarasota Opera from Malabar Ltd.

Image: Staff

Russell detailed some of the projects already aided by the “quiet” phase of the campaign, including the building of the Steinwachs Artists Residences that opened in 2016, needed work on the Pavilion Building next to the main opera house, the doubling of the endowment to $9 million, and expansion of the opera’s educational programming.

Costume worn by Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo in La boheme

But for the press and supporters at the announcement, the visual impact of the afternoon was made with the reveal of just a few of the costumes on the stage of the opera house, with the assistance of resident costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan. The close working relationship between Kaplan and Malabar, through its longtime owner Luigi Speca, as well as that between Malabar and the opera itself, was responsible for the offer being made by Speca to the Sarasota Opera to purchase his collection. The Sarasota company has long rented costumes from Malabar for its productions, along with creating many of their own here as well. The purchase preserves the largest collection of costumes available for rent in North America.

Resident costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan

Russell explained that of the remaining overall campaign goal of $5 million, $2 million will go to costs related to the costumes acquisition. A new 50,000-square foot, climate-controlled warehouse is being built to house the collection as well as props, sets and scenery. Ongoing rental of the costumes to other opera companies will generate revenue for Sarasota Opera while at the same time cutting costs for designing and producing new costumes here.

Another costume acquired from Malabar Ltd.

Image: Staff

Longtime Sarasota Opera supporters Paul and Sharon Steinwachs, through the Steinwachs Family Foundation, have pledged a challenge grant of $500,000 toward that goal, contingent upon Sarasota Opera raising another $500,000 by Dec. 31, 2019. Russell says $250,000 of that amount has been raised.

The first shipping of rental costumes from Sarasota—to a Canadian opera company—has already taken place.

For information about the campaign or the Sarasota Opera Costume Studio, call 366-8450 ext. 416, or visit sarasotaopera.org.

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