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Hand-made head pieces.

Costumes suffered the same neglect as the warehouse. Forgotten and layered in dust, they were vestiges of failed attempts to establish opera in Chicago. Labels dating back as far as 1910 bore such inscriptions as “Österreichisches Theatre-Kostüm Decorations Atelier from the era of Chicago GR[and] Opera.” Garments from its successor were stamped Chicago Opera Company in black block letters at the neckline. Surviving costumes, many from operas no one remembered, were stacked waist high in heavy piles, crammed into old steamer trunks, or thrown carelessly on the floor so that regalia of faux fur and velvet for kings mingled with the rags of peasants. A cluster of trunks yielded fake chain mail, sleeveless black leather tunics, long satin gowns heavy with gold embroidery and paste gems, doublets for princes and courtiers, a collection of suede boots painted red, and an assemblage of pink ballet slippers, size three, the latter supplied by Anello & Davide of 96 Charing Cross Rd., WC 2 London. Lyric Opera used this space for storage, too. A box labeled “garbage” was in fact some of the fantastic magenta and white foam costumes from The Love for Three Oranges staged by the company in 1976.

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Photograph: Kate Roth

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