Pictures from The Royal Opera House Costume Sale, September 24, 2011. There hasn’t been a sale since 2002.

In wildest Essex -Purfleet- The Royal Opera House has recently relocated its costumery and set design workshops. There are evidently plans to build a college on the site from which students can do apprenticeships in these areas of stage production with the Royal Opera House.  ‘A short walk of 15 minutes from a left turn at the train station and well posted’:  30 minutes later we were still walking,  encouraged only by people coming in the opposite direction carrying plastic bags and wearing pirate hats.

The staff, consisting of the Costume Department and gentle Others, were absolutely charming, and informed us that people had been queueing from 4 am, and 700 people were in the queue by opening. We were not among them! Would anything be left?  That early queue had consisted of professional buyers (I saw a lorry from the Welsh National Opera parked outside) and devotees of particular dancers or opera singers. There were two racks of ballet and the rest were opera.

The costumes were by designers and beautifully handmade. The Nurse from ‘Romeo and Julie’ actually had Victorian lace on her sleeves and apron. The opera costumes were so heavy that mounting one cape across my shoulders nearly drove me through the floor. ‘These are definitely not dancers’ costumes’, said I, ‘unable to move’.

I fell in love with one costume from the 2004-2006 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ which belonged to Gemma Sykes for her role in ‘garland girls’. The designer was Italian, Luisa Spinatelli (Luisa Spinateeli honoured at The Scala, as the wardrobe mistress informed us. It had a classic ballet or antique look that could have come from a production of Petipa. I carried the costume around for three hours with some trying to take it from my hands to admire: I wouldn’t let go. My daughter and I were on a precipice. We are not wealthy and were deciding whether to buy the costume or eat.  Being deeply practical people, we decided not to eat for a while, and the costume has come to live with us. A fairy tale ending.

Many of the purchases could be worn, were more magnificent than couturier clothes and had provenance. I shant be wearing mine, although my daughter now owns a Japanese, deep blue satin ‘nightingale’formal jacket.

Coming home on the train, we met Simon Whitehouse who is a tour guide at the Royal Opera House and a Teacher of Alexander Technique. We asked him if he were a dancer. We dancers can spot one another because we stand so straight. I think we were the only three people on the silent platform, the sun setting and the wind rustling the reeds from the not distant swamp.

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