One-of-a-kind Props and Costumes for sale as the English National Opera opens its archives

20 June 2023 | Conscious Fashion, Conscious Home, Events

For the first time in a decade, the ENO are opening their archives for a special sale. This unique event arises from a need to make space for new, exciting productions on the horizon. More than a simple sale, this is a unique opportunity for enthusiasts and collectors to own a piece of the ENO’s rich theatrical history. The props and costumes up for grabs are far from mere objects; they have been integral parts of the ENO’s operas, each carrying stories and emotions that helped bring dramatic tales to life.

No ordinary yard sale – this will feature handcrafted props alongside antique furniture, statement chairs, Midcentury desks, dragons from Turandot, animalistic masks, vintage bridalwear and a chalice cup mould by Anish Kapoor (pictured below). 

ENO chalice cup mould by Anish Kapoor

“We have a small, experienced team of highly skilled prop makers, supervisors and buyers,” says Guy Rhodes, Head of Props. Working with talented and respected opera designers and directors who are very clear about what they want, “our team work incredibly hard, buying, adapting, or creating props from scratch, to deliver their vision, as closely as possible to the reference, in a practical way. Sometimes, many samples will be tried before we settle on the right finish.

ENO dragon props from Turandot archive sale

“We have to take into consideration the individual needs of the artists too so that the prop works for them and doesn’t become a distraction. Ease of movement of larger items for scene changes, as well as easy braking etc all have to be planned. The size of a prop has to be considered too. Will it fit through our workshop doors, the dock door at the theatre, or the doors of the set? Sometimes props have to be made in sections and put together on stage. The range of skills used in any one production is hugely varied, from upholstery to hand painting marquetry inlaid furniture, to sculpting and moulding. No two shows are ever the same.”

Now is your chance not only to observe, but wear one-of-a-kind costumes. Get ready to browse fashion crafted in a collaborative effort for one of your favourite productions. “From the supervisor and fabric buyer to the costume maker, the milliner and the textile artists — we are lucky to be able to complete the whole process of costume making within the department,” says Sarah Bowern, Head of Costume. 

ENO embellished costumes in archive sale

Although it is hard to single out particular pieces, as each costume has a history that is hard to bid goodbye to, Sarah recalls costumes from the children’s opera, ‘The Way Back Home’, designed by Vicky Mortimer. “Wonderfully hand-painted like the illustrations from the book. There was a giant penguin costume that we had to insert a cooling device into to stop the actor inside from fainting.” 

ENO Costumes in archive sale
ENO shoes and props in archive sale

Prop highlights for Guy include the giant bear created for a production of Lulu, which has been rolled out again and again for various education projects and never fails to put a smile on the face of anyone that sees it. 

A large exotic bird display cabinet made for a production of La Traviata, directed by Conall Morrison and designed by Francis O’Connor, also stands out. “It was an incredibly satisfying production to work on. Set in a huge mansion with large ornate pieces of furniture, oil paintings, grand fireplaces, drapes, chandeliers and lots of dressing.” 

The sale spans many creations that made it, but equally intriguing are those that did not, including the devil head made for ‘Cellini’ directed and designed by Terry Gilliam. “It was such a shame because it was such a fun prop to make. We tried so hard to keep it in!” 

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see inside (and shop) ENO’s archives. Here are the details:

ENO Props and Costume Yard Sale 

Date: 7-8 July 2023
Trade Preview: 6 July

Address: Stonelake Industrial Park, 667 Woolwich Road, London SE7 8LH (parking available)

Please get in touch with me and the Salvo team if you would like to book a slot at the Trade Preview

ENO costume cloak in the archive sale Reclaimed Woman

© Photographs courtesy of ENO

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