Lyric Opera of Chicago

Backstage Look: Creating Hair and Makeup for The Passenger

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Sarah Hatten, hair and makeup artist.

Costume sketch for The Passenger.

Bald cap application process.


Hair and makeup are two major components of any production — they can often make or break a character! Who could forget Dr. Bartolo’s amazing hair, Klingsor’s menacing face, or Vodník’s webbed feet from this past season? Lyric Opera wigmaster Sarah Hatten, now entering her fourth season as the head of this crucial department, takes us inside the process for creating the hair and makeup for Weinberg’s The Passenger.

One of the most anticipated operas of Lyric’s 60th anniversary season, The Passenger is a recently rediscovered opera that explores the horrors of the Holocaust from the perspective of victim and perpetrator. It is an incredibly moving work that jumps back and forth in time from an ocean liner in the 1960s to Auschwitz during World War II.

With an opera based on historical events, the challenge is to make every aspect of the production look as realistic as possible. And as surprising as it might seem, recreating real life on stage is usually more difficult than creating whimsical or fantastic wigs and makeup.

Preparation for a production like The Passenger begins more than a year before it lands on stage, with Hatten reviewing research prepared by the production’s designers. Generally for any production, Hatten likes to have an understanding of the work's period. In this case, it is particularly important to understand the history of the piece. She has also spoken with her counterparts at Houston Grand Opera (which presented the U.S. premiere of the work in January) to see how they approached creating the look of the characters.

For The Passenger, Hatten and her team face two major hair and makeup challenges: bald caps are required for the large number of singers portraying prisoners in Auschwitz, and the production has atmospheric, but unforgiving, lighting.

Bald caps, typically made out of latex, start to warm up with a person’s body heat while on stage, causing them to stretch and wrinkle. Those stretches are what Hatten and her team want to avoid: “The caps have to be glued down extremely well so that they don’t come loose onstage, which can cause tears. Once a bald cap tears, it is incredibly difficult to save it. Many times you have to start from scratch.”

Directed by David Pountney, The Passenger features lighting designed by Fabrice Kebour. As beautiful and effective as it is, this very unique look presents challenges for the wig and makeup artists. “The lighting is one of the great things about the production,” says Hatten. “However, it makes flaws very visible and the variations of lighting from scene to scene make matching the color of makeup to the color of bald caps tricky. Things appear differently in different scenes, so we have to find colors, products, and materials that will work for the entire show.”

The solution to both of these problems can potentially be found in Hollywood! Hatten is hoping to work with an FX (special effects) artist to create silicone bald caps for the show, which have been widely used in films from the Harry Potter franchise to the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. “The benefit of silicone is that it is like a rubber and reflects light very similarly to skin,” explains Hatten. “I’m hoping this may help the problem that some past productions have had with the lighting.”

You can see Sarah Hatten and her team’s finished product on stage starting in February 2015. For more information, visit



Want to see more incredible transformations? Jill Grove transformed into the Witch for Hansel and Gretel:


Elisabeth DeShong becomes Hansel for Hansel and Gretl:


Photos: The Passenger production photo (credit Catherine Ashmore), Sarah Hatten at Lyric (credit Gramatics), The Passenger production sketch (credit Marie-Jeanne Lecca), bald cap application (courtesy English National Opera).  

Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by Richard P. and Susan Kiphart, Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, Sidley Austin LLP, Manfred and Fern Steinfeld, and Helen and Sam Zell.




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