Wigmaster  and  Makeup  Designer  Stan  Dufford
San Francisco Opera, 1956-68, and
Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1972-2000

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Dufford preparing Regina Resnik for her role in The Queen of Spades at the San Francisco Opera.
(All other photos on this webpage are from Lyric Opera of Chicago.)

Stan Dufford was responsible for the wigs and makeup at Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1972-2000.  Before that, he did the same at the San Francisco Opera from 1956-1968.

As an introduction and brief biography, what is presented below in this box is an edited version of an article which appeared on the San Francisco Opera Blog.

*     *     *     *     *

Dufford was born in San Francisco, but his parents moved the family out to a farm in Lake County, California, when Dufford was young. It was an isolated existence. There was only one movie theater in the entire county. All the films were in black and white, and society was scarce. His graduating class numbered 18, out of a total student body of 75. But a makeup box he discovered in the school book room changed the course of his future. At night, he would practice painting his face alone in the mirror. Eventually, he ordered a kit from the cosmetics company Max Factor, using its instruction manual to educate himself on technique.

It took him a while to warm to opera, though. When he was around 12 years old, he remembers attending a student matinee of Aïda. By the time he reached high school though, his tastes had changed. He listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturday afternoon. At the University of California, Berkeley, his passion for both makeup and opera flourished. He dropped chemistry as a major — though he still used the skills he picked up to mix body paint — and instead spent his time doing makeup for the drama department. His roommate would spin opera records, and in his senior year, a friend convinced him to go see Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera. They found a perch at the very top of the opera house, where the sound was the fullest. It was one of his first experiences with the institution that would become his office.

Outside of the occasional course in historical costuming, Dufford found that he had to teach himself the techniques that would ultimately be his bread and butter. There were no YouTube tutorials, no specialized courses for his career path. He also did not receive a lot of support from his family. But even in unexpected places, Dufford found opportunity. During the Korean War, he enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in San Francisco. When he mentioned to a superior officer that he wished to see real kabuki theater, the officer arranged for him to travel to Japan. While abroad, he picked up books about how to create traditional Japanese hairstyles and kabuki makeup, as well as materials so he could practice at home. 

This all came in handy when he auditioned to work at San Francisco Opera. After four years in the Navy, Dufford had returned to pursue graduate-level work at San Francisco State University. That’s when a call came in. The opera was looking for a wig maker. Though Dufford considered himself primarily a makeup artist, he had taught himself the basic wig-making knot, and decided to apply. At the audition, a stage manager escorted him to the theater basement. In the crates of extremely old-fashioned wigs, he pulled out three. Two were 18th-century-style powdered wigs, and the other was this mass of black hair, sewn in circles around the cap. The stage manager left, and Dufford had to show what he could do. He remembers fluffing up the white wigs and using the Japanese techniques he learned on the black one. It landed him the job.

But that was only the start of the challenge. In becoming San Francisco Opera’s new wig master, and later its makeup master as well in 1962, Dufford had inherited a department woefully lacking in resources. He suspects someone had absconded with the company’s best wigs before he arrived. The shortages forced Dufford to improvise. He had arrived only about a month before the start of a new season, and it could take five days to make a single wig. Where he could, he added highlights to revive older models, but some wigs required more drastic intervention.

As a profession, hair and makeup did not command the same respect as it does now. Dufford received very little forewarning about the company’s plans for opening night. He received no cast lists, no numbers, and no measurements to prepare for the wigs. So when choristers arrived at his door to get ready for the Manon Lescaut dress rehearsal, he had to sort out who was who among noblemen and townspeople.

He also picked up tricks from big-name stars, some of whom were used to doing their own hair and makeup. Touring opera stars even, on occasion, brought their own costumes, a tradition rapidly going out of date. Dufford picked up tricks, like back-combing, from greats like soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who always instructed him to make her wigs taller. His entry into opera also coincided with a time of increasing integration in the field. That forced him to seek out palettes that would suit more skin tones.

Dufford considers the stylized wigs he constructed in the 1960s among the highlights of his career, a testament to his creativity against stiff odds. But by 1968, he was ready to move on. For the next few years, he worked for commercials and movies. He also started pursuing hair and makeup as an academic discipline. He was fascinated with the evolution of the medium, and even published some of his research in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

By 1972, he was back in the opera house, this time with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There, he would spend decades respected at the top of his craft, until his retirement in 2000. But after retirement, Dufford felt like a man without an identity. So he returned to San Francisco, where he helps preserve the history he witnessed firsthand, as a volunteer in the San Francisco Opera archives.

In the fall of 1998 (and repeated early in 1999), WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago presented a ten-week series of programs about Lyric Opera of Chicago, which featured my interviews with backstage personnel.  These included General Director William Mason, Technical Director (who would later become Deputy General Director and Chief Operating Officer) Drew Landmesser, Production Stage Manager Caroline Moores and Stage Manager John Coleman, Lighting Designer Duane Schuler, Artistic Director Bruno Bartoletti, Property Master Thomas Gilbert, Costume Director Hugh Pruett, Wigmaster/Makup Director Stan Dufford, Chorus Master Donald Palumbo, and Production Administrator Marina Vecci and Artistic Services Coordinator Josie Campbell.  It is the conversation with Stan Dufford which is seen on this webpage.  [Names which are links on this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  There is a full list of my guests who have appeared with Lyric Opera duirng its first fifty years HERE.]

I met Dufford backstage at the Opera House in August, and as he spoke of specific operas, there was a genuine heart-felt enthusiasm for the pieces, no matter if they were easy or difficult to handle backstage.  He also gave details about his one craft, and the specifics needed to fit his segment into the larger whole each night.

boccanegra As we settled in for the chat, he spoke of the flexibility needed to accomplish all of this . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You were remarking a moment ago that you need to be flexible in the realm of wigs and makeup.  How flexible do you have to be?

Stan Dufford:   I have to be very flexible because I have to please so many different people.  In the ordinary course of things, I have to please the director, the designer, the artist, the head of the opera company, myself, and various assorted husbands, wives, mistresses, and boyfriends.  I have even been given notes by conductors on what a singer should look like.  So, I have to be very flexible.

BD:   It seems that you left out the public.  [In the photo shown at right, Ellen Shade is Maria (known as Amelia), and Sherrill Milnes is her father, Simon Boccanegra.]

Dufford:   We find out what they think by letters to the opera company, or letters to the editor!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Is there any one right way to do any particular character, even if it’s a historical figure?

Dufford:   No.  You always have to adapt to the face of the performer.  A lot of times, really historical accuracy looks rather strange to us today.  You notice this especially in historical films, where the clothing might be quite historically correct, but when it gets to the hairstyle, it tends to be modified by what’s currently considered good looking or beautiful.

BD:   Then, when you watch the film twenty years later, it looks out of date!

Dufford:   [Laughs]  Yes, of course.

BD:   You wouldn’t rather it look completely out of date, yet be historically right?

Dufford:   It depends on the production of what you’re trying to do.  If you’re doing something and you want to make a real statement, or if the director or the designer wants to make a real statement, then you follow their intentions, of course.

BD:   Should we separate the areas of wigs and makeup?

Dufford:   No, not at all.

BD:   In the design of the wigs and makeup, how much is the dictates of the director and the designer team, and how much is your imagination?

Dufford:   It really depends, because it has changed a lot in opera.  When I first started in opera forty-two years ago, quite frequently there weren’t any designers.  Often the production would be a revival, or something that would be pulled from the warehouse.  Increasingly, productions have become much more designed.

butterfly30 BD:   [Surprised]  There was not a showbook with the old sets?

Dufford:   No.

BD:   Just flats and frocks, and that was it?

Dufford:   That was just about it.  There was a lot less organization and communication.  That is the thing which has changed so completely.  I was telling my crew today that when I started forty-two years ago, we did a production in San Francisco of Madame Butterfly.  We did it without a dress rehearsal at all, because they said everybody knows Butterfly.  It was my first year, and it was rather disastrous.  They had increased the number of Cio-Cio-san’s friends without telling me!  [Both laugh]  So, there were five women who didn’t have wigs, and we had to improvise very, very rapidly.  But that’s all changed.  We’re very organized now.  We plan ahead, and we really try to be prepared.  [Note that the photo at left is the Lyric production, for which there was plenty of advance communication and preparation!]

BD:   In the olden days, the singers would come in and do their stock production, and the chorus would be trained, perhaps, at the beginning of the year, and that would be it?

Dufford:   In the olden days, yes... the bad olden days!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Are you glad that we’ve made so much progress?

Dufford:   Oh, yes!  The big thing that has changed, though, is that we have to be prepared for many more singers than we used to, because we have now double-casts, and we have covers for the double-casts.  So, for one role I would have to prepare a minimum of four wigs in a double-cast.

BD:   Each wig fits the individual person?

Dufford:   Oh, definitely.  When we go through flu season in Chicago during the winter time, it’s not unusual for people to become ill, and you have to make a last-minute substitution.

BD:   What happens when you have a singer flying in from Houston, or the West Coast, or Australia for a performance?

Dufford:   We improvise.

BD:   What goes into improvising?

Dufford:   First of all, we will style something ahead of time, even though we may not know who’s going to be singing that night.

BD:   I would assume that the concept and the ideas would be the same, no matter who is there?

Dufford:   Right, but we change hairstyles, and we change colors depending upon the looks and the personality of the singer.


Paolo Gavanelli (left) as Di Luna, and Dolora Zajick and Azucena in Il Trovatore

BD:   You really adjust it to who’s there?

Dufford:   Right.  One year you may have a Musetta that is blonde, and another year you may have a Musetta that has red hair.  It just depends upon what’s going to look good on that particular person.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How closely do you work with the designer and the director?

Dufford:   Very closely, very closely!

BD:   Even from the time the concept of the production is being decided?

Dufford:   No, after the concept has been established.

BD:   How much flexibility and freedom are you given?

Dufford:   [Laughs]  It depends, again, on the director and the designer.  I’ve worked with some directors when we do a revival, and the designer does not come.  Some of the directors will say, “I’ll just leave it up to you, Stan!  I trust you, and I trust your judgment.”

BD:   That’s trust you’ve built up over the years?

Dufford:   Right.

barber of seville

Figaro (Thomas Allen) makes up Count Almaviva (Rockwell Blake) as they plan their mischief in The Barber of Seville.
Presumably, Dufford
gave Allen a few pointers for his characterization!

BD:   You don’t need to mention any names or specifics, but have there been times when you thought that the designer has been wrong-headed, especially about a historical character?

Dufford:   No, not so much the designer.  Usually, the designer and I can see eye to eye on things.  Sometimes I’ve had problems with the singer, or even problems with administration, but that happens very rarely.

BD:   [With a wink]  In the end, who is right?

Dufford:   [Laughs]  I’ve learned to compromise over the years.  You have to compromise, you just have to.  You can’t insist.  Sometimes a designer will say, “She must wear this,” and I will reply, “I can’t sit on Madame so-and-so and force her to wear this wig!”  You don’t want an unhappy singer.  That’s very important.  You’ve got to keep the singers happy.

BD:   Let me ask the other side of the coin.  Are there times when everything is just right, and you feel you couldn’t have done it any better?

Dufford:   Oh, no!  I’ve been pleased, certainly, with the results.  For instance, I really enjoyed working The Gambler that we did a few seasons ago, because it was a period that I’d never done in opera.  [Photo from that production is shown at the bottom of this webpage.]  It was set just after the First World War, and it was a challenge.  But it was a lot of fun, and I was very pleased, and the designer was very pleased, I must say.

BD:   Do you gear anything that you do to the music?

Dufford:   [Sighs]  No.  Mine is a visual craft, and where the music comes in it has to do with the style.  The style of the music usually is the style of the production.  You can do Tannhäuser in a very traditional style, and then you can also do it as we did in the Peter Sellars production, which was modern [Richard Cassilly in the title role, shown below].  Then there are the Robert Wilson productions, which are totally untraditional.


BD:   Is there any difference in your concept if you’re working with mythological figures?

Dufford:   It’s more fun!

BD:   Why?

Dufford:   That’s why I prefer working in opera than working in film, because we get to do more interesting things.  Apart from the monster movies, we get to do gods and goddesses, and witches, and fairy-tale characters sometimes, and that’s much more interesting.

BD:   Is opera a fairy-tale?

Dufford:   Some of it is a fairy-tale, yes.   It’s a different world of its own, that’s for sure.  When I’m working, I am a mono-maniac about.  I set my sights, and I work, and I have no social life.  It’s all-engrossing for me.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When you start designing the wigs and the makeup, do you know about how long it will take you to execute all of the projects for one particular opera?

Dufford:   [Laughs]  One thinks that one knows... until sometimes the designer or director gets there and changes it.  He might say, “No, I don’t like that!”  Or, a designer will want one thing, and the director will want another, and a singer will want something else.

dufford BD:   I assume then you just sit in the sidelines and let them fight it out?

Dufford:   No, I’m an active participant.

BD:   You’re fighting for what you believe in?

Dufford:   Yes.  One time we did a production which was set in the seventeenth century, when men wore long hair.  Miss Krainik didn’t like it.  I said, “It looks very, very good, and the singer is ecstatic with the way he looks.  I’m not going to change it!”  I think that’s probably the only time I ever did that!  [Both laugh]  I got away with it, but there again, the singer was supremely happy with the way he looked, so I thought it shouldn’t be changed.

BD:   Knowing that Krainik had come from a singer’s background, maybe that was the ideal argument.

Dufford:   [Laughs]  Perhaps.

BD:   How far can you go to make the singer happy, and how far must you stay within what you have to do?

Dufford:   Here it is compromise, again.  A lot of times, singers don’t want to wear hats, and there again we can’t sit on them and force them to wear a hat.  But this is a common complaint, and yet the designer and the director want the singer to wear the hat.  So, we try to coax them into it.  That’s just a part of keeping them happy, but not let them get away with too much.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Are you part first-grade teacher?

Dufford:   [Laughs]  Referee, umpire, that sort of thing!

BD:   That’s a better way of looking at it.  If someone says they want to look just exactly the way they do in real life, how much work is involved in making them look just exactly that way when they’re on the stage?

Dufford:   That’s interesting.  The first film I did was with Woody Allen, and he said that he wanted the leading lady to look as if she had no makeup on.  I said, “Well, that will take longer!”  [Both laugh]  It’s easily done to make someone look like themselves, but you because of the distance in this theater, you have to heighten things.  You have to do a lot of contouring, so that the face will end up looking as it does close up.  It will project to the mass of the audience, but we can’t make them up for the last row at the theater.  We try to make the middle of the orchestra be about the median.

BD:   Then you hope it doesn’t get too little way back, and too much down front?  [View of the main-floor interior of the Civic Opera House in Chicago is shown above-left]

Dufford:   For those who are so far away, it’s not going to be so evident, but we also don’t want to make people up so much that they look funny from the first row.

BD:   What about the people way in the back who are using field glasses?

Dufford:   They depend upon binoculars, yes...  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you spend more of your time on wigs, or more of your time on makeup?

dufford Dufford:   More time on the wigs, much, much more time.  It takes an average of five days to tie the hairs into a wig, and that’s not counting the time for making a custom-made foundation to fit a person’s head exactly.  It also doesn’t count time for styling.  Makeup is done fairly much at the last minute.  There is planning, certainly, and designing, and that takes time, but the bulk of it is spent on the wigs.

BD:   Do you get a measurement of someone’s head?  For instance, if a singer from last year is coming back this year in a different role, can you use the same basic foundation for the wig and put different hairs in it?

Dufford:   No, no, no, no, no, no!  No!  After spending all that time on making a wig, we are not about to remove the hair.  You’ve ended up with a $2,000 wig, so why remove the hair from it?  If we have the measurements, then we can make another wig.  The problem is that we frequently get singers who come in fairly last minute, and we have no idea what their head size is.  Then, sometimes they have a head size on a costume measurement sheet that was taken by someone who’s not a wig-maker, and the measurements are all wrong.

BD:   If you know a singer is going to be back for three seasons running, would you make several foundations from one measurement, so that you could use it for each of three different productions?

Dufford:   No, we don’t have time to do that.  We start only a month and a half before the season opens, and at a week per wig, we don’t really have time.  We have barely enough time to make wigs for the principals.  For instance, during the season, there’s no time to make wigs for the chorus.

BD:   They just take them off the rack?

Dufford:   No, out of the box!  [Both laugh]  Then we style them.  We make wigs off-season on a special contract, but we don’t spend almost the year round as some of the other departments do.  We come in at the last minute, as it were.

BD:   You design and work on the makeup with the principals.  Are the comprimarios left to their own devices?

Dufford:   Oh, no, no, no!  We makeup all the artists and the comprimarios, the supers, the ballet, and the chorus if it’s a special makeup.  [See my interview with Ken Recu, who was Captain of the Supers at Lyric 1977-83.  That webpage includes several onstage photos, and an additional page of candid shots (in costume and makeup) taken backstage.]  If it’s just a straight-forward makeup as, for instance, La Traviata, then they make themselves up.  [Photo below-right shows a group of eight singers ready for La Traviata.  Philip Kraus is third from the right.]

BD:   Do you give them instructions?

Dufford:   If it is what we call a
straight makeup, no.  We provide the materials.  If they have a very stylized look, as, for instance, Madame Butterfly or Aïda, then we do their makeup for them.  But that’s quite an expensive proposition.

BD:   Because that would take a huge staff?

Dufford:   Yes.  We do use a huge staff when we do, for instance Mefistofele [by Boito; photo of production shown below].  They’ll use between twenty-three and twenty-five makeup artists and hairstylists, because it is so complicated.  We use about that many for Aïda, and a few less for Madame Butterfly [photo of production shown farther up on this webpage], which in itself is a small cast, but everybody has to be made up.  We try not to leave people to their own devices for something that’s difficult.


Samuel Ramey (wearing red) and Kristján Jóhannsson in Mefistofele, which opened the 1991-1992 season
BD:   When the chorus has been given instruction from you or your staff, does someone check them before they go on stage?

Dufford:   Yes.  When we’re putting their wigs on, for instance, we can check to see that they’ve done the makeup properly.  But there is no one roaming through the chorus rooms checking on them.  They’re professionals, so they’re supposed to be able to do a standard straight theatrical makeup.

BD:   Are there times when they would do the standard makeup and then you would simply add some special touches?

Dufford:   Quite frequently.  If we’re doing something that is stylized, they will put on their own makeup foundation, the base, and then we will finish it for them.  That’s because of time.  Time is money!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What are some of the most complicated shows you do?

Dufford:   Mefistofele.  It’s a beautiful production, but it’s difficult for us.  The Love for Three Oranges was a difficult one logistically because people were running around changing costumes, and makeup, and wigs constantly.  We had to figure out which side of the stage they were coming off, just to figure out where to have the wigs, and the people to put them on.  That was quite complicated.  [Note that one of the photographs of Ken Recu is in costume, wig, and makeup for Love for Three Oranges.]  Also Butterfly!  Even with a small staff, it
s a bit complicated in our production.  But Mefistofele is the good big headache for me,

BD:   A good headache?

Dufford:   Good headache, yes, oh, yes!  It’s a beautiful production.

BD:   What are some of the operas that are easy, that you come to the theater and think it’s a piece of cake?

Dufford:   I love Bohème [shown below in photographs from two seasons], and it usually goes quite easily.  Also Traviata.  Some of the standard ones like that are a pleasure to work, and a pleasure hear because they’re a pleasure to listen to.  I’m somewhat old-fashioned in my musical tastes, and I do like the Puccini, late Verdi, and some Strauss.


In the lower of the two photos (above) of La Bohème, we see (left to right) Elena Zilio as Musetta,
Julian Patrick as Marcello, Ileana Cotrubas as Mimì, and Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo.  Italo Tajo was

both Benoît and Alcindoro, and is shown being made up by Dufford at the bottom of this webpage.

BD:   With perhaps not necessarily a new opera, but something that is new to you, does it please you or surprise you when you eventually hear the music for it, and the makeup fits very well?

Dufford:   Usually on a new opera, I like to acquaint myself by listening to it on recordings.

makeup BD:   Do you get inspired by the music?

Dufford:   Yes, but some of it is for timing.  Timing is always important.  When do characters come on stage?  How many people are going to come rushing on at the beginning of the opera?  Since I have to hire makeup artists and hairstylists, I need to know how many I need, and if you have an opera where everybody comes on in the first act, we have to hire more people than if some come on in the first act, and others come in later, in the second act or third act.  That’s part of it, and also, I certainly enjoy the music.

BD:   Do you hire people who are experienced in theatrical makeup, or just people from salons?

Dufford:   Ah, good point!  There are a great number of people who consider themselves makeup artists, and I get telephone calls and letters all the time.  Most of the people have not got the proper training for what we do.  Most of them are salon makeup artists, fashion makeup artists, or video makeup artists, and that they just don’t have the kind of knowledge and training that we need.  It’s a little difficult.  There used to be a training program in San Francisco where I got many of my assistants, especially the wig-makers, and my permanent staff.  Here I have four assistants who are both makeup artists and wig-makers.  They are very, very skilled, and I treasure them dearly, but it’s difficult to find new assistants who also make wigs.  I hire makeup artists as needed for the productions, but I’m very, very dependent on my four makeup artists, the wig-makers staff, and my hairdresser.  I have to turn down a lot of people because they don’t have the training for what we do.

BD:   You can’t just prompt them quickly as they’re doing it?

Dufford:   We don’t have time to train people!  We just don’t!  People ask if they can be an intern, and we just can’t.  We don’t have time.

BD:   Then what advice do you have for someone who wants to get into this area?  It sounds like you need a workbench to build your workbench on.

Dufford:   Yes, I know, it’s a Catch-22.  There are two universities that have four-year programs but that’s quite a lot to ask.

BD:   Training in theatrical wigs and makeup?

Dufford:   Yes.  There’s one at the Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, and one at the School of Performing Arts in North Carolina.  They are both excellent programs, but it is a four-year college program.

BD:   When they graduate from that, can they expect to be hired by opera companies or theater companies?

Dufford:   Yes.  More theater companies are hiring makeup artists now than in the past, because you have large-cast musicals, like Showboat and The Phantom of the Opera.  So, they do hire people.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve worked in both opera and theater, and also in film.  Has the expectation of the opera audience changed because now they’ve watched films with the great details?

Dufford:   Yes.  That started back in the 1950s, although when I first started, opera makeup was really quite, let’s say, not naturalistic.  Then, because of television and film, opera audiences expected better results, and it really was quite instrumental in changing the makeup and wigs.

BD:   For the better?

Dufford:   Oh yes, for the better!  Much for the better, yes, yes.  Some of the makeup that we do nowadays is almost as naturalistic as for film.  It depends...  When we did McTeague [by Bolcom; photo of production is shown below], we used film makeup.


BD:   Does any of this depend on the lighting designer?

Dufford:   Very much so, because the function of makeup, as far as I’m concerned, is to compensate for the lighting, or the lack of it!  [Both laugh]  There have been two trends in lighting.  One is for opera lighting to have less light and to be dim quite frequently, and then sometimes harsh, bright, white light is used, which is very difficult to adjust for.  Then, if you have a production where you have both very dim light and then very bright light...

BD:   [Picking up on his allusion]  Then you’re in trouble!

Dufford:   Yes! [Both laugh]

phil kraus BD:   Do you work with Duane Schuler a lot on this, or do you just hope that he doesn’t destroy what you’re doing?  I assume he hopes that you don’t destroy what he’s doing...

Dufford:   In the summer, when the scenery is first put on the stage, and lighting is set initially, I’m frequently not here, so I have to talk with Duane and find out if there’s anything really unusual.  Then during the piano run-through, and the dress rehearsal, if I think something is not really working out, I’ll go to Duane and ask if he can warm up the light on Madame So-and-so, because it’s not so flattering.  He’s flexible, too.

BD:   Have him increase a little bit, and throw a gel in front of the lens?  [Photo at right shows Philip Kraus (left) as the Notary, along with two others who appeared in specialized makeup in Der Rosenkavalier.]

Dufford:   Whatever... that’s his specialty.  [Roars of laughter]

BD:   So, you don’t co-ordinate the wig and makeup color with the gels in the lenses?

Dufford:   No, not at all.

BD:   Some of these performances are televised.  Do you do anything different when you know it’s going to be for the camera?

Dufford:   Very definitely.  We use film makeup, and the wigs have to be extra specially naturalistic-looking.  Because of that, we tend to use a performer’s own hair as much as possible, so that it will look good in a close-up.

BD:   That doesn’t short-change the audience that’s sitting in the theater?

Dufford:   [Thinks a moment]  Not in the makeup, but the lighting is usually a lot brighter when they tape for a film.

BD:   There is a notice in the program for that.

Dufford:   I saw a production of Tosca at the Metropolitan, when they were doing a practice-tape for filming, and the light was so much brighter.  I remember somebody else in the audience said, “Oh, my Gosh!  The costumes look garish!”  They were never meant to be seen in such a bright light.  But they are warned that this was going to be filmed.

BD:   So, it really does all have to work together?

Dufford:   Yes.

BD:   Do you want the audience to understand what you’ve done, or do you want to just fade into the background?

Dufford:   It shouldn’t be noticed, unless it’s something really unusual.  Music critics almost never mention the wigs and makeup unless they hate them.  I would just as soon they that not notice.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You don’t want every review to say the wigs and makeup were brilliant???

Dufford:   [Laughs]  No, no!  I’ve only had that happen a couple of times.  I got a good review for Paradise Lost [by Penderecki; photo of production is shown below] when it was on the the Austrian Rundfunk (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) [both burst out laughing], but it’s rare.  It’s better if they just don’t notice, unless it’s very highly stylized, and really unusual.  Then if they comment on it, fine.

paradise lost

BD:   Do you get a quiet satisfaction knowing if the production went well, that you were part of the team?

Dufford:   Sure.

BD:   Is that different from other opera companies?

Dufford:   I did not feel part of a team when I worked with San Francisco Opera.  That was several regimes ago, and when I came to Chicago, it was really a pleasant surprise at how well I was treated, and the fact that it was a team.  We get many comments from the singers about how they really enjoy singing at the Lyric Opera, and that it’s much friendlier than at other opera companies.  So, we try to keep it that way.

BD:   That makes for better performances!

Dufford:   Right.

BD:   I assume, though, in the end, it’s all worth it?

Dufford:   I’m older than retirement age, and I’m still doing it, so it’s because I enjoy doing it.  I don’t see any reason to retire.

BD:   Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do this
either someone who is working in it now, or someone who wants to get into it?

Dufford:   I suggest that people volunteer their talents to community theaters.  Organizations would really appreciate the help, and they can get experience that way.  I also suggest that they go to colleges
even the two colleges that I mentionedand take courses there.  We have a local college that has excellent makeup instructor.  But it is really difficult because, as I said before, it’s a Catch-22.  It’s like getting a union card.  You can’t get a union card until you have the experience, and you can’t get work until you get the union card.

BD:   I hope you’re part of the Lyric team for many more years to come.  Thank you for the conversation.

Dufford:   Oh, thank you.



See my interviews with Jacque Trussel, and Robert Orth

© 1998 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded backstage at the opera house in Chicago on August 7, 1998.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB four months later, and again in February of 1999.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.