Costume Designer for the Sarasota Opera

Howard Tsvi Kaplan

Gulf Coast opera aficionados have long been delighted, not just by the soaring arias, but by the beautiful costumes that are part of each Sarasota Opera production. For 25 seasons, Howard Tsvi Kaplan and his staff have created those exquisite costumes for more than 100 operas.

“I’ve always loved designing clothes – imaginary clothes for imaginary people,” Kaplan said. “I started in high school. I earned my degree from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, and then my first job after college was with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College as a designer for them. That led to developing contacts at the Asolo, where I was resident designer for a number of years. Eventually I was introduced to Deane Allyn and Maestro DeRenzi, and they hired me 25 years ago,” he said.

Working with the Sarasota Opera allows Kaplan to do the five shows annually here, and then go back to his home on Long Island, and accept other freelance projects throughout the year.

The design process starts with budgeting. Each show starts 1 ½ years to two years in advance of the actual production. Kaplan will read the libretto, listen to the music and do his research on each production.

While the costumes for the principals may be done as much as a year in advance, the costumes for the chorus, which is the bulk of the work, is done two to three months before the season begins. While some costumes are designed and created from scratch, many are pulled from the opera’s stock of existing costumes. When not in use by the Sarasota Opera, the costumes may be loaned to other opera and theater companies around the nation.

Kaplan says the most challenging part of his work is waiting for all of the measurements to come in, so they can begin creating and putting the finishing touches on the costumes for the chorus. “It’s a bit like putting a puzzle together,” he said.

“I love the camaraderie. I have a very good shop I work with, and our volunteers are just great,” he said. “We have earned a very good reputation for our production values, and carrying out Master DeRenzi’s vision for each show.”

Kaplan says he has always loved operatic and show music, and has learned so much over the last 25 years so that today he appreciates it even more. Kaplan is responsible for 350 to 400 costumes per season, some of which are updates of existing costumes and others are completely new designs.

“I love what I do,” he said. “Like with any job, there are moments when I think to myself that I should have listened to my mother and become a doctor, but the Sarasota Opera is a dream company, and it is a joy to get to do what I love to do.”