My name is Kelly and I’m a freelance opera singer. I recently had the experience of performing an opera in a corset from Orchard Corset. When on stage, it is important to feel comfortable and to wear something that does not get in the way of your performance. Fortunately for me, wearing a corset enhanced both my physical confidence and worked as an excellent practical aid to my singing.
As an emerging professional opera singer in the not-so-glamorous-but-still-a-lot-of-fun point in her career, many of my productions these days have allowed me a satisfying amount of creative control over my personal aesthetic presentation. Translation: I have to provide my own costumes. When I was cast in Black Box Baroque’s production of Handel’s Alcina in the title role, I knew that I would have to come up with an ensemble worthy of an island-dwelling sorceress who bewitches men into falling madly in love with her. It was the perfect excuse to finally get myself a corset.
I’ve wanted to try a corset for years but I never quite found the right reason to get one. I stumbled across Orchard Corset and with the opera on the horizon, I decided to go for it. I ordered the CS-426 in gray and my costume coordinator and I were able to work it into my outfit. Truth be told, I pushed to build the look around the corset. In a black box theater production with a limited budget, a corset goes a long way. Of all of the costumes I’ve cobbled together for various shows, this one is by far my favorite.
I had little experience wearing a corset, and no experience singing in one. I’ve performed countless times in shapewear and lesser quality waist cinchers, but nothing that involved laces and steel boning. It took a little bit of getting used to before the performance.
I made sure to season my corset before the show, as per OC’s instructions. I wore it around my apartment for a few weeks before I took it into rehearsal, which was its own experience. It was a little odd to spend hours at home organizing sheet music and watching Netflix in a longline underbust. However, no large breaths popped any seams and by the first rehearsal the CS-426 and I were old friends.
Singing in a corset is by no means a rare thing. Opera singers around the world sang in corsets for centuries. Today corsets are frequently employed in period costumes, and there are many singers who prefer to sing in corsets.
Sounds surprising, you say? Why would anyone prefer to sing in a corset?
Here is my very limited take on things: I LOVED performing in a corset. Everything about it felt fantastic. First of all, I looked amazing (if I do say so myself). I’ve always been, shall we say, “fluffy,” so laced into this beauty I was flaunting all of my lovely curves. My costume gave me a fantastic boost of confidence on stage. The corset also helped me find my character. I had instant poise and carried myself differently than in my daily life. Alcina is a powerful woman, and having a corset helped me access that power by changing my physical stance.
But I know the real question. Breathing. How did I breathe? How was breathing and singing with something laced tightly around your ribs and waist a thing that anyone would find enjoyable, or even possible?
For me, the trick was not to overtighten the corset. When singing an opera, the first priority of corset wearing cannot be to make your waist as tiny as possible. The first thing you have to consider is how much room you have to breathe. Breathing while singing involves a lot of moving parts. Your ribs expand, your diaphragm drops, things need room to move. I made sure that the corset was snug but not restrictive when I was full of air. For me, this meant that my modesty panel just barely covered everything, especially since I was wearing the corset on the outside of my costume.
It may sound surprising, but I found the resistance of the corset extremely helpful. With the support around my ribs and abdomen, I could really feel the intake of breath. It helped me to coordinate my breathing and phonation, and ultimately assisted me in creating a supported sound.
This coordination and support did take a little time. Taking time to rehearse in the corset was extremely important to work out all of the sensations and figure out the fit. In some rehearsals I had the laces too tight, or else I managed to put it on incorrectly. Once I had the waist tape digging into my lower ribs, making it difficult to get a full breath. Ensuring that the waist tape was at my natural waist was much more important that I originally considered, and made a very big difference in my breathing. It took some time working with the corset to figure out the best fit for me and to learn just how much to lace it in order to have an optimal performance.
The most difficult part of wearing the corset was movement. We blocked the show without me wearing a corset, and then staging got interesting. I had a lot of kneeling and leaning in the show which was all very simple when I could bend at the waist, but involved more thought when metal boning entered the scene. I also had to ask a castmate to pick up a prop for me during a quick scene change, as bending over in layers of skirt and corset was a little tricky to do with real speed.
This was only my first real experience performing an opera in a corset, but it was an excellent experience. I will be looking for any excuse to wear my corset again, and will likely get something to wear in auditions as well.
For me, the corset was a blend of instant confidence and supportive breathing tool. It had more benefits than I anticipated and I encourage anyone curious about singing in a corset to give it a try. You never know what will give your performance some new magic.
All photos by Cliff Romig
Thank you, Kelly, for the wonderful photos & words! We hope to see you corseted and performing again!
-The OC Team