School of Music

USM Opera Workshop to Accept Valuable Costume Collection

April 4, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine – The donation to the University of Southern Maine of a collection of about 500 opera costumes – worth more than $200,000 – will be acknowledged next week during the USM School of Music’s Opera Scenes Concert.

The men’s and women’s costumes, designed and created by Boston fashion professional Helen H. Friedman, includes full sets of costumes for such productions as “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “Lady in the Dark,” “The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and other Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. 

The costumes, donated by Richard Conrad of Eliot, former artistic director of the Boston Academy of Music and current artistic director of The Bostonians (The Bostonian Opera and Concert Ensemble), will become an integral and important part of USM’s opera program, according to Ellen Chickering, USM professor of voice at the School of Music, under the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. 

“We are very grateful to receive these wonderful costumes for use by our students,” Chickering, who directs the Opera Scenes Concert, said recently. “In order to have a viable scenes class where students are learning about opera, it is important that they have appropriate costumes, probably even more important than having sets. The Helen H. Friedman Collection will add immeasurably to our opera training capability.”

“This generous donation is terrific news for our students,” said Alan Kaschub, USM School of Music interim director. “We are so grateful to Richard Conrad for these fantastic costumes. This donation is also a testament to Professor Chickering's work with our students over the years. Mr. Conrad knows that these costumes will be put to good use because he knows of Ellen's outstanding dedication to her students and the high standards of the work we do here.”

“I am happy to donate these costumes to the Opera Workshop of the School of Music at USM,” Conrad stated recently. “Many of these were designed and built by my dear friend, Helen Friedman, for Ellen Chickering in productions by the Boston Academy of Music. I have been most impressed by Ms. Chickering’s work in the USM Opera Workshop and know that Helen would be happy to have them there.”

Conrad will be honored for his donation during the upcoming Opera Scenes Concert, and USM students will model a number of the costumes. The details of the concert are:

  • University of Southern Maine School of Music: Opera Scenes Concert by the USM Opera Workshop, under the direction of Ellen Chickering, USM professor of voice; Helen H. Friedman Costume Collection recognition; concert featuring scenes from “Alcina,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “The Magic Flute,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” performed in English, with piano accompaniment; 2 p.m., Sunday, April 13, Corthell Concert Hall, USM Gorham campus, 37 College Ave., Gorham; Tickets: $8, general admission; $5, students, seniors, USM employees and alumni; Call (207) 780-5555 or go to 

Helen Friedman worked in the fashion and design industry all her life, at first spending many years in Italy, where she designed and manufactured wedding gowns for export. On moving to the U.S., she worked at Alfred Fiandaca Couture on Newbury Street in Boston as a pattern designer and maker until her retirement. Fiandaca was a well-known Boston couturier who designed for such notables as Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews, Joan Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Ann Romney, 

Conrad recalled that he produced a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta years ago and “grabbed costumes wherever I could get them.” Friedman attended the performance and later offered to help with costuming.

“Helen made some marvelous costumes and many of them for Ellen [Chickering],” who performed in numerous Conrad productions, the artistic director said. “They’re not just put together like costumes, but like really beautiful, tailored dresses.”

Fifteen dresses in the collection were designed for Chickering for her performances, among others, as Leonora in “La Forza del Destino,” for Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa,” for Verdi’s "Un Ballo in Maschera” and Puccini’s “Tosca.”

“In each production, there were two or three dresses because there were costume changes,” the USM professor said.

Some of the costumes are 20 years old, and some are fragile, “but not the lion’s share,” Chickering said. The costumes mostly are clean and durable, she said, adding that they are well taken care of and stored in temperature-controlled space at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus.

Chickering has taught the opera scenes class at the USM School of Music for 25 years, working with beginner to advanced students. The semester concert is the “culmination of all the scenes they have learned,” she said. The voice professor said that in the past, she has made costumes and alterations for the students to wear during the concert.

“These wonderful costumes will make a difference in helping to create the effect of a full, operatic production,” she said.