On Site Opera Feature

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I am so thrilled to be working on On Site Opera’s latest produciton Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt at the American Musuem of Natural History this month. Check out the interview I did about my work for this show on the On Site Opera Blog:

Summer In Every Season: Meet Our Costume Designer, Summer Lee Jack

Summer Lee Jack is a Brooklyn-based freelance costume designer who has been designing costumes for over 15 years and has worked on over 125 productions from opera and new plays to musicals, TV series and short film. We loved the chance to chat with Summer about her approach to our unique production of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt!

OSO: This is such a unique show since we don’t have a conventional theater or set. The costumes play a huge role in telling the story. How are you using clothes to help establish the characters? 

SLJ: This show is unique for me to design because as the director (Eric Einhorn) and I were discussing our approach for the design of this opera, we didn’t want it to feel rooted in a specific period. So trying to find a non-specific time for this piece was a challenge. For ‘Rhoda’, while it is set in the past, it does not identify a specific time period. It couldn’t feel too modern or contemporary, but instead I am finding a happy medium of combining details from many periods. This opera is really told through the eyes of a child, so looking for the details a child would remember is something I was thinking about a lot when I was designing this piece. These characters are all based on real people, so I had to do research into what they wore in real life. Seeing pictures of the real people (Charles Knight and Henry Osborn) from the American Museum Natural History research library – and even talking with Rhoda herself- helped me find some of the clothing details I needed to make them feel like real people wearing real clothes.  I still played with color and texture (with the help of a little child-like imagination) so they stand out from the crowd of the audience in the Dinosaur Hall.

OSO: Is opera different from other kinds of shows in terms of your process for designing the costume plots?

SLJ: Yes, it’s very different. The thing I love about designing for opera is that the music gives you such a heightened world sometimes; you really can do a lot of really fun and creative designs that you can’t do in a lot of serious plays. You can take things to a dramatic place because of the emotion of the music and the story itself often calls for it. It’s such a thrill to interpret this in every piece because it means something totally different for each person. It’s very exciting!

OSO: Soprano Jennifer Zetlan is an adult playing a child (the character of Rhoda). How do you approach this challenge? How literal does one need to be with age, etc in an opera like this?

SLJ: I think it’s less about the actual age of the character we are portraying (which is 8 years old) and more about showing the spirit of childhood with the character of Rhoda. She learns a lot about herself as she leads us on this journey around the Dinosaur Hall of the American Natural History Museum, and I wanted to focus on that “child-like sense of wonder” she has. I wanted her to be very colorful in her clothes because she is just full of energy (and I think a little bit of a tomboy). I think her spirit is a little bit in everyone.

OSO: How is your work on this opera different from a standard rep or period piece?

SLJ: There is something really different about this piece as opposed to a standard rep piece, because it’s about the wonder of science. It’s about using scientific process to think about things differently and challenge ourselves. I think that is something that all of us can learn from.

OSO: What is something you wish more people knew about costume designers in the theater/opera world?

SLJ: I don’t think that people really know how much labor goes into making costumes. I think that we as a society don’t value clothes as much as we have in the past. I think a lot of the fashion industry is full of “disposable clothing” that is made as cheaply as possible. We wear them once and then throw them away. I think there is such a lack of understanding in how much work goes into making clothes from scratch! Skills like sewing are getting rarer and rarer. The cost of costume labor is the largest overlooked expense in creating costumes. We are lucky enough to have a very skilled draper who is patterning several custom-made garments for this show to fit our vision and our singers perfectly. We are so lucky that we get to do this for Rhoda. The people that make costumes deserve so much respect as do the garments they make. I hope that the time and skill that went into them will be seen and appreciated in this production.

OSO: What is your favorite dinosaur and why?

SLJ: The Tyrannosaurus Rex because it is the scariest of them all but has the funniest little arms.

OSO: Which flavor of ice cream do you most hope we’ll be serving at the ice cream social on September 23rd?

SLJ: Chocolate Peanut Butter!

OSO: Do you have any other upcoming projects we should be looking for in the near future?

SLJ:  I am designing On Site’s next production in Spring 2018.

OSO: Are there any other general thoughts about Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt or On Site Opera you’d like to share?

SLJ: I have always wanted to design for opera in unusual spaces. I saw a version of Il Tabarro on a barge in Red Hook about 10 years ago, and I just found it so thrilling. It was always my dream to get to do opera outside of the theater space like this. Opera that is different. I think that this makes it real and tangible and exciting for the audience. I am thrilled to be a part of this team!

For more information on the upcoming production of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, click here.

The Cunning Little Vixen at MSM


"Jihye Oh’s preening rooster presided hilariously over her brood of quacky, clacky chicks with their pearls and knitting needles… Montana York was an animated Frog, Heeso Sun a sunny Butterfly, Sarah Schultz a gracefully dancing Dragonfly, and Alexandra Koutelos a fashion-forward owl in Iris Apfel’s signature glasses. As the Mosquito, tenor Biran Egan conveyed the eager glee those hateful insects must feel when circling their unsuspecting prey. In Summer Lee Jack’s colorful, suggestive costumes, the ensemble pranced, crawled, and danced gamely.”  — Joanne Sydney Lessner from Opera News

‘Summer Lee Jack designed delightful costumes for the beautiful ensembles of hens, fox cubs, forest animals, and others.’ -  Bruce-Michael Gelbert from [Q]

'There was so much about this production to cherish. The costuming by Summer Lee Jack was imaginative and colorful, telling so much about each character.’ - meche kroop

'The performance also gets a lift from the winsome costumes by Summer Lee Jack’ 'the colors are gaudy and the gestures suitable. Of course hens (in yellow wigs and lofty heels) knit while sitting on their eggs—why didn’t I know that? And of course Czech vixens have peasant patterns sewn into their fur.’-  John Yohalem

'The costumes themselves were representational without being unwieldy, and the consolidation of certain roles (Mr. Su sang the Parson and the Badger, and Ms. Martin played both Sharp-Ears and one of her kits in the final scene) only made sense, given the lack of children in the cast and the resources of the conservatory.’ - Paul J. Pelkonen

'This piece is particularly moving when, as it was at Manhattan School of Music, it is performed by young singers just setting out on new careers. And they seemed even younger in Dona D. Vaughn’s adorable production, presented as a children’s play, in costumes and sets that (deliberately) looked homemade.’ - James Jorden


Cinderella at Boston Symphony Hall

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Just finished up a really fun La Cenerentola by Rossini with Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra! With these two awesome ladies! Sarah Larsen playing Thisbe and Amanda Opuszynski played Clorinda, my evil stepsisters for this opera. Hope that the kids enjoyed it!

The King has Spoken at MSM

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“ The costumes by Summer Lee Jack were appropriately over the top, poking fun at the High Baroque. The set by Kate Ashton was simple but effective; there were sheer white drapes, a few pieces of period furniture, some flowers, and a screen for suitors to hide behind (of course). “ - Voce di Meche

The Tower: NYC 2015

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Reviews are in for the Tower that I designed here in New York at the Here Arts Center! Downtown theatre at its finest. A show with a very compelling story to tell, about the pioneers that made it west to California as members of the Donner Party in 1847. Such a fun group of people to do a play like this with, its been a wild ride.

"The TOWER is an amazing collaborative production where each of its parts are as strong as the next. It’s inventive and expertly written, directed and acted, with eye-popping props (Dan Daly, Stephanie Cox-Williams) and wonderfully cohesive set (Pieyi Wong), lighting (Alana Jacoby), sound (Sam Kusnetz) and costumes (Summer Lee Jack).” - Leslie Dileo from Hi Drama

"Gates and his concrete design team reimagined how to transform a common theater space. Scenic designer Peiyi Wong’s unparalleled design transported the audience through time and space. With virtually four “stages” for Gates to play in, Wong paid attention to detail, providing intricate detail without overstuffing the space. The subtleties, between the wood features to the forests-scape on all surfaces, Wong transformed HERE Arts Center into something you wish would never change. The lighting design by Alana Jacoby was precise and sharp bouncing from scene to scene but when the travelers were in the wilderness, the cold light was perfectly terrifying. The costumes from Summer Lee Jack fit the period well. Even though they were layered, you could see the thin fabrics lead to their demise.” - Michael Block from Theater in the Now .com

"It’s a heady, complex brew, but there are intimate passages that arrestingly portray the minutia of daily life under the harshest of conditions. Each and every member of the terrific ten-person cast -- garbed in Summer Lee Jack’s period-evoking costumes -- captures both the look and essence of hardy people unmoored by nature and their own inclinations. “ - Ron Cohen from NY Theater

Aspen Opera Theater Season 2015

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I was in Aspen, Colorado again this summer to design for Aspen Opera Theater Center’s summer season! It was a very good festival this year and being in Aspen is always a great time. Check out these news stories on our work this season:

Huffington Post article on Cosi Fan Tutte (with some great photos):

Aspen Times on Cosi Fan Tutte

Aspen Times bit on the singers in Romeo and Juliette

Seen and Heard international on Cosi Fan Tutte: and RandJ:

Aspen Times bit about the Double Bill:

An article about the Double Bill (The Cows of Apollo and the Classical Style):

More info from this years Aspen Music Festival Program Book:

Thanks to everyone I worked with in Aspen for all their hard work this season! I am so proud of the work we produced together, and as always Aspen is a beautiful place to spend the summertime!

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Das Land des Lächlens at Manhattan School of Music in Opera News!


Click here to read a review of Das Land des Lächlens I just designed at Manhattan School of Music from Opera News Magazine!

“Kudos, then, to Dona D. Vaughn, artistic director of opera at Manhattan School of Music, for bringing back Franz Lehár’s delectable but little-seen Das Land des Lächlens as a Senior Opera Theater production, and for doing it with such a light, sensitive touch. Working with student singers in a bare-bones performance space on a small budget, she successfully evoked a sense of what made the Silver Age of Viennese operetta so appealing…"

"Lehár wraps the story in one exquisite melody after another; it is easy to see from this score why the man was known as the Puccini of operetta. At the April 3 performance in Manhattan School of Music’s Ades Performance Space, the audience, at least half of which was made up of young people, seemed thoroughly taken with this relic of bygone times. It helped that Vaughn wisely chose to have the spoken dialogue delivered in English and the sung numbers in the original German with supertitles…"

"Set and Lighting designer Kate Ashton effectively suggested the East-vs.-West atmosphere with minimal resources; Summer Lee Jack’s costumes helped set the colorful tone…" 

Photo by Brian Hatton.

A Little Night Music at Manhattan School of Music


Click here to read a review of A Little Night Music I just designed at Manhattan School of Music… "The gorgeous period-appropriate costuming was credited to Summer Lee Jack” - Voce di Meche blog. Thanks for that! I loved designing this period and the music is so beautiful and this piece is so very clever! I loved it so much. It was such a joy to watch every night. Now moving on to the next project!

Photo by Brian Hatton.

A Little Night Music with Catherine Malfitano


Click here to read an article about Catherine Malfitano in my production of A Little Night Music at Manhattan School of Music… So thrilling to work with such a talented woman in such a wonderful musical. It was so lovely to be involved with this piece with such a wonderful and talented cast. 

Photo by Brian Hatton.

The Hungry Woman at Arizona State University 2


The Hungry Woman by Cherrie Moraga featured in the Phoenix Times! Click here to read more about the production. Click Here:

Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of ASU Herberger Institute for Design and Arts.

© Summer Lee Jack — ® All Rights Reserved. Usage of any materials here-in is strictly prohibited without written approval from Summer Lee Jack or associated theater, production company or designer. 2017.            © Summer Lee Jack — ® All Rights Reserved. Usage of any materials here-in is strictly prohibited without written approval from Summer Lee Jack or associated theater, production company or designer. 2017.         
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.