English National Opera's beards smell 'like wet dog'

 

Kate Youde
Friday 08 February 2013 20:00
Comments
The English National Opera's staging of The Barber of Seville calls for 28 wigs
The English National Opera's staging of The Barber of Seville calls for 28 wigs

Take hair from the belly of a yak, wrap it in tissue, wind it around wooden dowelling, secure it with cotton and string, and boil for two to three hours. Before you reach for Heston's cookbook, this is not the latest culinary fad but English National Opera's recipe for curling facial hair. "It smells like wet dog," says Vanessa Davis, wigs and make-up supervisor at ENO."Whenever we do it, everyone complains."

Yet the process, which is like a perm but without chemicals, is often a necessary step in preparing for the company's stage productions.

Luckily for its staff, ENO's staging of Rossini's The Barber of Seville, starring Garry Magee as Figaro (pictured), later this month, features only one moustache, but it does call for 28 wigs. While some of these will also be made from yak hair, which is used because of its coarse texture, many will be human hair.

"The most common question I get asked is: 'Does the hair come from dead people?'" says Davis, who also works with yak tail hair (great for long beards), horsehair (used for judges' and barristers' wigs) and angora (soft like baby hair). The human hair comes from a merchant, who sources different types from across the globe and sterilises it. (No worries about lice, then.) Spanish, Polish and Russian hair is particularly common. An average wig is made from between 150 and 180g of hair, which can cost £300 to £600.

ENO keeps its stock in a boiler room under the London Coliseum stage, where large drawers bear labels such as "mid brown long" and "crazy colour". The room also houses its "priceless" archive of wigs from previous shows.

Making a wig by hand is a painstaking craft: every hair must be knotted individually into special lace, a process that takes an experienced wigmaker a week to 10 days.

The 11th revival of director Jonathan Miller's celebrated production of The Barber of Seville sees Andrew Kennedy (singing Count Almaviva) don four different wigs. During a fitting, a wigmaker wrapped the singer's head in cling film and Sellotaped it to create a cast, before marking out his hair line and taking eight sets of measurements. The fitter used this cast to make a replica of the performer's scalp from a malleable head block filled with cork, on which the wigs are then built.

But the hard work does not stop once a wig is finished. ENO's nine wigmakers have to "turn" the wigs after every performance. This involves a shampoo if necessary, and a re-style before the next performance.

'The Barber of Seville', London Coliseum, London WC2 (www.eno.org)

25 February to 17 March

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in