On Stage/Backstage
Makeup at the Opera February 13, 2014

Opulent is the first word that comes to mind when faced with the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, one of the most imposing, impressive architectural wonders in the city. We were there to meet Jocelyne Meslin, Head of Makeup.

Makeup at the Opera

February 13, 2014

Opulent is the first word that comes to mind when faced with the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, one of the most imposing, impressive architectural wonders in the city. We were there to meet Jocelyne Meslin, Head of Makeup.

Eschewing the magnificent, grand marble staircase, we were instead ushered in through the Artist’s Entrance which managed, somehow, to be even more impressive. Honestly, we were all walking through the corridors grinning, taking in the beauty and history of it all.

Though the Opera Garnier first opened in 1874, there has only been an in-house makeup department for around 40 years, from around the time that Jocelyne Meslin started there. Before that, all the artists, no matter how famed, did their own makeup using their own products.

Jocelyne was brought in by director Rolf Lieberman. It was he who first insisted that the Opera de Paris must have its own makeup department, as well as professional hairdressers (it had been two very, very, very old ladies up to that point), and that is where Jocelyne cut her teeth. After 10 years, she was offered the Head of Makeup position, a job she has held, and clearly enjoyed, ever since.

We asked her how much input she has in the creative process. “It depends on the director and designer of course – sometimes they have a really precise idea of what they want, sometimes not - but hair and makeup are consulted around the time the costumer has his or her ideas in place. Even after 40 years here, it’s very exciting, each and every time!”

With all those years of experience, Jocelyne says she often has a clear idea of what they are after quite quickly. “These people are so highly creative on so many levels, they can convey their vision and get me inside their head to see what they see. Once we agree on the look, I make up the shopping list of all the products I’ll need for us to get that look together.”

With all the products in hand, hair and makeup stage a makeup rehearsal, a run-through that’s as much about getting the look perfected as it is about speed. “We don’t have a lot of lead time. Two or three days before the first real run-through – for the actors, it’s a dress rehearsal, but for us we consider it as the opening night – we have to be ready,” says Jocelyne.  When asked if she is stressed about the last minute scheduling, she shakes her head. She and her team are used to it. And after 2 makeup run-throughs, they are usually on top of it. When quizzed on her favorite MAKE UP FOR EVER products, she smiles as if it should be obvious. “The Face & Body waterproof foundation. Perfect for the dancers, who sweat a lot, it stays on no matter what. And more importantly, it stays looking great! All our products must stay on through pretty extreme conditions.”

The Opera Garnier makeup team is ‘expandable’: 4 full-time makeup artists and another 4 or 5 freelancers, depending on the production. During a show, they are always in the wings for retouching, freshening up powder, foundation, whatever is needed, especially when there are costume changes. Sometimes that means a full makeup change in under three minutes. While the dancer or artist is changing into another costume! “It should be total chaos,” she tells me.  “A costumer, hairdresser, and one or two makeup artists all doing their job at the same time. That’s a lot of hands on someone at one time!  It’s hectic, but everyone is experienced enough to have a rhythm going. We manage not to get in each other’s way.” 

The next time you’re at the Palais Garnier to see an opera, you can be just as impressed with what’s going on behind the scenes as with the sumptuous surroundings.

  • Tags:
  • Theater,
  • Opera Garnier,
  • foundation,
  • Face & Body,
  • artist,
  • dancers,
  • Makeup artist