The secrets of theatrical make-up: Tiziana and Emanuela Passaro

Tiziana and Emanuela Passaro have collected the legacy of four generations of Neapolitan artists who grew up in the entertainment world. With Artimmagine, they combine the long tradition of wigsmakers with the mastery in make-up for the theater – the San Carlo Theatre in Naples and the Verdi Theatre in Salerno, above all – cinema and TV.

Can you introduce yourself to Operafashion’s readers?

We are Emanuela and Tiziana Passaro. We come from a family of make-up artists and wigmakers. Artimmagine is the workshop and service we opened 11 years ago in Naples: we offer make-up services and supply wigs.

Who or what inspired you to become a makeup artists?

We have been lucky to be born into a family with a very long tradition of professional make-up artists and wigmakers. Our mother, Annamaria Sorrentino, was the head of the hair and make-up department at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples for 40 years. When we decided to follow in her footsteps, Mom made us do several years of apprenticeship: we had to study a lot and we put make-up on many extras before working with important performers.

What remains of the long and prestigious tradition of the Sorrentino family today?

When it comes to our mother’s family, the Sorrentinos, we are preserving the tradition of artisan wigmaking. My sister Emanuela and I work in the historical laboratory: we put lots of passion and effort in our job. Our wigs have been appreciated a lot in Italy and abroad. As for the services we offer to the main Italian opera houses, from our mother and grandfather we have surely inherited devotion and respect towards the artists and the professionals who work in the world of entertainment.

Wigmaking is an ancient art, characterised by meticulousness and patience. How is a wig made?

Our creations generally come to life from the ideas of costume designers, set designers and directors. We study the sketch, identify the right materials and get to work. First you make a custom structure, then you start the most complex phase, which requires patience and precision – the so-called “embroidery” of the hair. After that, we move on to the desired styling and hairstyle. All this requires a careful study of historical periods, styles, decorative elements. In short, the staging is only the tip of the iceberg.

What do you think is the role of make-up artists and wigmakers in creating an opera character?

What make-up artists and wigmakers do is not only about looks. The primary function of make-up is emphasising the facial features of a character, so that all the audience can see them, but with make-up you also create a character according to the opera context. The best part of our job is when artists thank us for helping them getting into their characters. In addition, we constantly assist singers during their performances.

What is beauty?

It is a general idea of harmony, not necessarily related to aesthetic canons. Our work sometimes means aging or distorting someone’s facial features. Think of Rigoletto or Azucena… But in opera all characters are visually beautiful because the way they look like is always given a context. I think something is “ugly” when it’s out of context, meaningless or when it expresses nothing.

You teach at several theatrical make-up and wigmaking training courses. What advice do you give to students who want to work as professional make-up artists or wigmakers?

Our advice is to work with enthusiasm. Students should also remember that you work on commission almost all the time, so you must be ready to get your client’s plans and ideas: you usually do that with your skills and a good amount of empathy.

What cosmetic can always be found in your make-up bags?

Eye liner and mascara for sure.

At the San Carlo Theatre in Naples you’ve often worked with opera divas. What do they ask you most frequently? And what do they hate?

In the world of entertainment, artists often can’t decide what they look like on stage.  We try to find a compromise between the directions of the costume designer/director and what artists like. Primadonnas generally don’t want to be treated as models or mannequins with no personality. What they ask most frequently is about comfort, so it’s easier for them to move on stage and to get into their characters. Requests we cannot help but indulge.

How do primadonnas act when they are sitting in front of a mirror?

We must say that most of the greatest divas are accommodating and understanding. They travel the world and are used to trusting the professionals they work with. They are also experts in what is being done to them, so we can’t make mistakes. For them, sitting on the make-up chair is a moment of relaxation: they tell us about their children and the sacrifices they make. They often ask advice on what to visit in our area or on typical products.

What is the best and worst part of your job?

There’s one thing that is both good and bad – constant change. A regular routine is not for us! We always face new challenges, new projects, new touring trips and new people to meet and work with. However, this is also the result of the insecurity of our job, which is really going through many difficulties in this historical moment.

Do you get on with each other?

We have different characters and have taken different paths. But we never act without discussing first. Each of us does her best to achieve a common goal – doing our job well.

No woman can leave home without …

Mascara, a classy and elegant touch that highlights the eyes, especially in this period of mask-wearing.

Three make-up items that every opera singer must wear on stage

Falsies, lipstick and foundation.

Three teachings for Operafashion readers.

  1. Theatrical make-up artists do not “create” beauty. They create characters
  2. Theatre is like a clockwork: everyone must do their job perfectly and on time
  3. The world of theatre is addictive: you can’t live without it.

Last, what’s your favourite make-up brand?

We don’t have one. It depends on what we need in a specific situation. For theatrical make-up, Indio foundations and Kryolan eyeshadows are the best, but you have to know how to apply them properly. The most iconic lipsticks are by Chanel, and the best mascara is by Dior.

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