“Beauty is what gives us emotions”: word of Mara Casasola

Her career as make up artist starts in 2003 when she obtains the make up artist certificate at BCM Milan Academy.
From then on, Mara Casasola collaborates with the most important and prestigious cosmetic companies becoming trainer and International Make Up Artist. The Milanese fashion sector allows her to enter in the world of fashion as a make up artist on the occasion of the fashion weeks, for editorial and advertising campaigns.
In 2005 she is among the winners of one of the most sought after places at the theatrical make up and hairstyle course of Accademia del Teatro alla Scala. Enraptured by the charm of the theatre world, she starts to collaborate as a make up artist and hairstylist for Teatro alla Scala in Milan and for other important Italian and international opera houses. For the television, she collaborates as a make up artist in both Mediaset and Rai productions and for the production of fiction and advertising spots. Actually, she teaches in the Course for theatrical make-up artists at the Teatro alla Scala.

Can you introduce yourself to the readers of Operafashion?

My name is Mara Casasola and I am a make-up artist and theatre hairstylist. I have been working for about 15 years in the backstage of the most famous opera houses in the world. I create the looks for international stars of opera and ballet.

Why did you decide to work as a theatre make-up artist?

From the age of about 9 to 18 I worked as an extra for opera productions at the Teatro alla Scala; I felt so many different emotions on stage! I was fascinated by the magic power of make-up and wigs ‐ watching the artists coming out of their dressing rooms completely transformed into wonderful characters. So after high school I decided to attend a make-up school to learn this art. I worked backstage at fashion shows in Milan and in TV productions, but I was not fully satisfied. In 2005 the Academy of Arts and Crafts of the Teatro alla Scala announced the first course for make-up artists and theatre hairstylists and I was among the lucky few to be selected. So I completely and passionately dedicated myself to this course and to study: I made lots of sacrifices, but I began to understand that that was my future, that was the dream career I really wanted. From behind the scenes everything looked more beautiful.

What is Beauty for you?

Beauty is an abstract concept, a set of aesthetic and character factors. I think flaws can often be beautiful. A prominent nose can be very charming on someone full of charisma like Maria Callas. Beauty is what gives us emotions; once you discover its power, you cannot live without it.

What inspires your work?

When I’m looking for new make-up or hairstyling ideas, I always rely on costume history, on paintings from the past and on historical films.

Lots of inspiration comes from the masters of make-up like Stefano Anselmo, whom I had the opportunity to work with, or Rick Backer for special effects. I like mixing their influence with the latest fashion trends.

What sets Mara Casasola apart from other make-up artists?

I am an atypical make-up artist. I like keeping the facial features of the person I am making up visible, “flaws” included, without distorting them (if stage directions make it possible). I also like playing with light and dark shades and using techniques for highlighting eyes.

You teach theatre make-up and hairstyling at the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala: what advice would you give to young people who want to start working in this field?

I would recommend putting aside the make-up trends seen on social media. Be curious and browse magazines, photos and films of the past. Get into the wonderful repertoire of operas and ballets available on TV and, when possible, go to the theatre. Attend an excellent academy that gives the opportunity to do a lot of practice and internships.

In our work there are often no free evenings, weekends or holidays spent with the family. People working at the theatre are like a big family, so if you want to do this job, you must have a strong motivation and be able to work under pressure on a tight schedule. You must be willing to work in groups and with people from all over the world, so speaking English is essential.

What can always be found in Mara Casasola’s cosmetic bag?

In my personal cosmetic bag there’s always a good concealer for dark circles (given my late working hours), mascara and blush. In my professional kit there is never shortage of palettes to create lights and shadows on face and eyes, pencils and a good foundation.

What do you think is the function of the make-up artist in creating the character of an opera?

The work of a make-up artist is the result of the work of a team of experts which includes the director and the costume designer: they give directions through sketches, photos and key images. The make-up artist must adapt the make-up to the facial features of the artists and turn the persons into characters. Along with the costumes, make-up is fundamental to make the look of a character complete. Stage indications are sometimes minimal but even in that case the make-up artist must follow the artist through costume changes to make sure that the make-up is not damaged.

At the Teatro alla Scala you have worked on many leading ladies of opera: what do these artists ask you most frequently? And what can’t they just stand?

In my career I have been lucky enough to work on many beautiful women. The request I hear the most is to create a chiaroscuro (the famous contouring) to sculpt the face and make eyes look bigger, because otherwise they tend to  look smaller under the stage lights and from a distance. They usually don’t really like long-lasting lipsticks because they tend to dry lips out, which can be annoying when you sing. Sometimes when I do age and character make-up, I find myself ‘settling’ on the request to draw fewer wrinkles. Last, they absolutely can’t stand the smell of hair spray.

What do opera primadonnas do in front of the mirror?

My work always takes place in front of the mirror and I often see them concentrating, thinking about stage movements and intonation. I see the look in their eyes and I understand they are already on stage with their mind, so I try to disturb them as less as possible. Once the make-up is done, once the wig and costumes are in place, they focus on themselves while they’re vocalising. Sometimes they can be insecure, but on stage they turn into tigers.

Mara Casasola with Saioa Hernandez in Puccini’s Tosca at the Teatro alla Scala, 2019

What are the most frequent mistakes opera singers make when they do their own makeup?

They often use eye shadows with a pearly finish that don’t work with stage lights, because they look wrong and reflect light too much. Even using a shade of foundation too different from the color of your skin (apart from the character of Aida) is a big mistake, especially if it is not blended well on the neck.

The best and worst part of your job

Surely the best part of my job is to see the result of my work on stage and see the shows from behind the scenes: even if I am often busy with costume changes, the music is always there.

The worst part are tight schedules and fast-paced environments and sometimes rude people I have to make up.

Mara Casasola with Ildar Abdrazakov in Verdi’s Attila at the Teatro alla Scala, 2018

A good make-up advice to young opera singers

Buy a good palette of dark powders and a good brush to highlight the areas under the cheeks, under the jaw and around the nose. And always apply face powder before getting on stage.

Talking of makeup, a woman can’t leave home without…

She absolutely cannot leave home without mascara!

Three make-up products that no opera singer can do without on stage

Powder palette for contouring

Face powder

False eyelashes

Three things about you you would like to reveal to Operafashion readers

The first time I stepped on the stage of La Scala as a child was for the rehearsals of Boheme. I was so entranced by the beauty and majesty of the theater that I froze,  looking at the empty stalls without doing my part. Mrs Freni took me by the hand and led me backstage.

On the days before the premiere, if I am working on the prima donna,  I can’t get any sleep: I spend hours and hours thinking how I can improve my work to make it perfect for the TV broadcast; I also go through the quick changes I have to make behind the scenes.

One of my most treasured possessions is the lipstick used by Mrs. Netrebko for the premiere of Tosca at the Teatro alla Scala. She gave it to me at the end of the production.

Mara Casasola with Anna Netrebko in Puccini’s Tosca at the Teatro alla Scala, 2019

What’s your favorite make-up brand?

One of the brands that I love the most is MAC. Their huge range of highly pigmented colours is excellent for creating long-lasting and clearly visible shades; their foundations have a very natural but high-performance finish make my job so much easier. They have pro palettes that can house your favourite pans, very practical to use in dressing rooms and backstage for quick changes. I use MAC products also when I work on TV or at photoshoots with singers.

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