Spotlight on Turandot Wigs and Makeup

Wig and Makeup Designer Ronell Oliveri
Wig and Makeup Designer Ronell Oliveri with some of her wigs
Source: Jamie Kraus/Opera Colorado

By Angelica DiIorio

“Getting anyone ready for a live performance is exciting,” shares Wig and Makeup Designer Ronell Oliveri. “I like helping the artists become their character, and when your character is partially fantastical, you really need that wig and makeup element to take you over the edge.”

For a production like Turandot, managing the wigs and makeup of these artists is no easy feat. Let’s take a look at what it takes to create the look for the characters.

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Four men stand together in a rehearsal hall
Young Bok Kim, Jonathan Burton, Martin Bakari, and Craig Verm in rehearsal for Turandot
Source: Jamie Kraus/Opera Colorado

There are close to forty wigs in this production. They are all hand-made and part of Ms. Oliveri’s personal collection. First, Ms. Oliveri takes an artist’s head measurements. Then, she sews the hairs on the wig to get a seamless hairline. Luckily, Ms. Oliveri has already worked with two of our leads—our Turandot, Kara Shay Thomson, and our Calàf, Jonathan Burton. Their measurements were taken long ago and their wigs ready upon arrival in Colorado. Some of the character’s headpieces are so large and ornate that wig prepping is more of a cap to make sure the headpiece stays on properly.

Each wig tells a bit more about the character’s personality and status. Of course, the hair of a princess like Turandot must be extra special. Ms. Oliveri shares, “She has very long hair—longer than anyone else. It’s still all human hair, which is a big deal. When it’s that long, you actually have to create a layered wig. Buying hair longer than twenty-four inches is almost impossible. For us to create something that is that long, we build it on ribbon. Then, we snap it into the bottom of the wig, so it creates this much longer layer.”

Turandot’s long hair helps her stand out from other characters, but it also acts as a status symbol for her. It is part of Confucian beliefs that hair must be kept long out of respect for a family and lineage. So, it follows that the hair of a princess is the longest and most beautiful on stage.


Three men with exaggerated makeup and mustaches stand in a line
An example of these exaggerated features in earlier productions of Turandot
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

While the headpieces and hairstyles of Turandot are reminiscent of Asian cultures, we are careful not to feed into stereotypes with the wigs and makeup we put on our artists. Ms. Oliveri explains, “For me, the challenge is making sure we stay out of the offensive world and how shows like this were done in the past. We are not doing things like the really exaggerated Fu Manchu mustaches. Back in the day, they used to do what was called ‘Asian eyes,’ which is a really exaggerated cat eye, and a lot of making the faces very white. I’m happy that we are moving along with the times and taking out some of those aspects.” Ms. Oliveri and her team sat down with the Stage Director, Aria Umezawa, and carefully removed archaic elements to make the piece more appropriate for a modern audience.


Robes with blue, orange, red, navy, and teal stripes hang on a rack
Rehearsal robes for Turandot
Source: Opera Colorado

Our production of Turandot has a more fantastical setting, so we are able to step out of these boundaries and work in more abstract designs out of time and culture. Ms. Oliveri is especially excited to play with the colorful palette of this production. “We get to use color in a different kind of way,” she elaborates. Turandot is another level of color. I want to experiment with a few different shapes on people’s faces instead of the more traditional eye shadow and move into some patterning. I could lean more into the geometric shapes that are in their costumes and do a triangle on someone’s eye to keep it interesting and abstract.”

For example, the three ministers each have their own unique color. Their makeup will reflect the color and shapes in their costumes to have a consistent palette that is unique to the character. The objective is to not depict these characters as stereotypes, but rather as unique individuals with their own distinct looks.

It is also important to note that all the artists will keep their natural skin color. Ms. Oliveri adds, “All in all, changing someone’s natural skin tone is not how we do it, or have ever done it, at Opera Colorado.” Ms. Oliveri and her team put a lot of care into the wigs and makeup in this production of Turandot. She also works in a close partnership with our Costume Director, Alison Milan, to make sure all the elements of a character’s appearance fit well together.


A man and woman smile as they look at the sheet music they are sharing
Martin Bakari and Janai Brugger in rehearsals for Turandot
Source: Jamie Kraus/Opera Colorado

Turandot holds a special place in Ms. Oliveri’s heart. She shares, “I love this show. This is the first show I ever did with Opera Colorado in 2001. I love the music and I think it is one of those pieces that looks the best when it all comes together. It’s very visually spectacular.” Make sure to look for all these little details in the wigs and makeup of the artists you see on stage!

Whose wig and makeup are you most excited to see in this production? Let us know in the comments below.

Don’t have your tickets for Turandot yet? Join us at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House from May 6 to 14 for this fantastical tale. Get tickets today>>

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