Sid Neigum Vancouver Opera

Sid Neigum Makes His Costume Design Debut for the Vancouver Opera

The Toronto designer has created all the costumes for the production of The Marriage of Figaro.

Photography by Luis Mora

Toronto designer Sid Neigum isn’t afraid to stretch his design impulses. Earlier this year we caught his London Fashion Week Debut, and within months, Neigum was partnering with Pfaff Automotive to design three luxury vehicles.

Now, he’s making the transition from runway to stage, designing all the costumes for Vancouver Opera’s mounting of The Marriage of Figaro, on now until May 17, at Vancouver Playhouse. The classic comedy (‘opera buffa’), which has multiple love triangles that clash with age, class and even bloodlines, is directed by Rachel Peake.

“The music was written by Mozart,” says Neigum from Vancouver where he is ensconced. “I think when most people hear it, they have an ‘aha’ moment. I did Suzuki method piano lessons when I was younger, so I had a huge interest in classical music. It felt like a natural project because of the strong relation between costume and fashion.”

Although the research involved in mounting a stage production and the crushing deadline of an opening day has similarities to fashion, Neigum says it was fun to let his imagination run a bit wilder.

“For some characters we literally said, ‘OK, we need to make this woman look like she is trying to act younger so she can pick up this younger guy.’ The references were hilarious, Real Housewives type stuff, lots of make up, a dress that was intentionally too small, in a stretch silk. So bad that it’s good. It’s nice to be able to laugh at clothing sometimes, fashion can be so serious.”

It’s nice to be able to laugh at clothing. Sometimes fashion can be so serious.

Fashion shows generally require a day of castings and fittings, one or two days before the event and the models are on the runway the next day. “We have two hours of hair and make up, and the show lasts 15 minutes. It’s very fast,” he says. “In opera there are months and months of rehearsals, and many tech rehearsals leading up to the opening. The whole design and production team watch and take notes on changes that need to be made and the changes are made by the next day.”

One of the things Neigum enjoyed most was live feedback from the audience. “This is a comedy so not every costume designed was meant to be taken seriously,” he says. “This is one of the things I found to be particularly different and refreshing about designing for the opera, some characters you are meant to laugh at. If someone is laughing at a fashion show, it isn’t a good thing.”

To help us better understand the costume design process, Sid broke down some of the looks from Vancouver Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Photography by Tim Matheson

“This is from the Garden Scene, we see Cherubino (left) in a silver silk brocade suit, this was one of my favorite fabrics in the show, also the most expensive. We also see the Count (center) and the Countess disguised as Susanna, wearing her maid’s outfit, and wedding veil. Cherubino is a pants role, so one of the challenges was to make her appear to be a convincing man.”

Photography by Tim Matheson

“This scene is one of my favorites, and one of the funniest. The Count (right) comes back from hunting and almost catches his wife, the Countess (left), with his young page, Cherubino, who is hiding in the closet. Susanna (the Countess’ maid) catches the whole scene without anyone noticing. The Countess is in her bias cut red silk dressing gown, The Count in his cotton twill structured jacket and knee high leather boots, and Susanna in her white cotton uniform.”

Photography by Tim Matheson

“This is a shot from Susanna and Figaro’s wedding. One of the things I learned along the way is that in Opera, black is typically avoided. We broke that rule for our Figaro. The fabric for his suit is an amazing black on black brocade trimmed in white, to make him pop even when the set gets dark.”

(Vancouver Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro runs until May 17 at Vancouver Playhouse)