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The Italian Job

Albright senior Autumn Galka, an aspiring costume designer, gained hands-on experience over the summer interning with a traveling opera company in Italy. She hopes to return to Europe after graduation to pursue a career in the industry.

By Hilary Bentman

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Albright senior Autumn Galka spent part of the summer in Italy
interning with La Musica Lirica, a traveling opera company.

Autumn Galka stood before the performer with a daunting task at hand – to turn an American actress into a Japanese geisha for the opera Madama Butterfly.

Thankfully, Galka had taken a class on stage makeup at Albright, and tackled the application of the heavy white face paint with ease.

“I was even able to teach the performers how to tie the obis,” said Galka, referring to the traditional sashes worn with kimonos.

“But the wigs, that was a new game for me,” Galka acknowledged with a laugh. “I was learning along with the performers.”

A senior fashion design major concentrating in costume design, Galka spent part of her summer in Italy, honing her skills and gaining hands-on experience with a traveling opera company.

For five weeks, Galka interned as a costume technician with La Musica Lirica, a professional company that produces a trio of operas in Italy each summer with American performers and technical staff.

Galka was well-suited for an internship abroad. A transfer student from Marywood University, the Noxen, Pa., native already had a semester abroad under her belt, having studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

After she graduates from Albright in December, Galka hopes to find a job as a costume designer abroad, with her sights set on England.

“I’m definitely willing to travel for my job,” she said.

So when Galka heard about La Musica Lirica in Italy, it seemed like the perfect fit.

“I had never worked with an opera before, but I was interested in broadening my horizons costume-wise,” she said. “Operas tend to be more exaggerated, and I thought this was something fun to work with.”

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Galka worked on the costumes for three operas, including Gianni Schicchi.
Photo courtesy: La Musica Lirica

But Galka thought her chances of being accepted into the competitive program were slim. Still, she applied.

“I figured ‘one could dream, right?’ I was very surprised when I got it.”

And thanks to a generous donation from Albright alumnus Wilmer Johnson ’95, Galka was able to afford the travel costs.

Johnson had planned to make a donation to the College, and when he heard about Galka’s opportunity in Italy, knew he wanted to direct his support toward assisting her. As an Albright student, Johnson had spent an interim session in Hawaii. The experience had a lasting impact.

“Spending January in Hawaii was, of course, a lot of fun,” Johnson recalled. “But off-campus learning, in an environment that was totally new, was a significant part of the value of my Albright experience, and I wanted to help another Albright student hopefully have a similar experience.”

La Musica Lirica is based in the eastern Italian town of Novafeltria, about 80 miles southeast of Bologna. But the company travels all over the country – even venturing into the tiny state of San Marino – with their sets, props and costumes in tow, to stage free performances for locals in venues large and small, indoors and out.

La Musica Lirica staged three operas over the summer – Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Gianni Schicchi – with four performances of each.

As a costume technician, Galka worked behind the scenes, constructing garments, assisting with hair and makeup, helping actors dress, and handling last-minute problems like ripped costumes.

Galka, who has only been making costumes for two years, even had the chance to design a look for the opera L’Italiana in Algeri.

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Galka also assisted with hair and makeup, helping to transform American performers into Japanese geishas for Madama Butterfly.
Photo courtesy: La Musica Lirica

“I’ve never had the opportunity to design anything except in classes, so I relished in that, to take something and change it into something beautiful,” she said.

Though the shows kept her busy, Galka seized every opportunity to sightsee, spending a day in Florence and savoring the views from atop Mt. Maioletto.

“Even if we were working and walking around trying to find food, it was amazing to see the beautiful sculptures and artwork,” she said. “It was fantastic to be in the country and traveling.”

Galka also enjoyed the local delicacies, especially gelato and genuine Italian pizza.

“Pizza has been ruined for me in America,” she said with a laugh. “It will be at least two months before I can have American pizza or pasta.”

Galka has stitched together an impressive resume of costume-making experience.

Last year, she interned with the Adirondack Theatre Festival, a summerstock in upstate New York. At Albright, Galka has been a dresser and stitcher for Domino Players productions, including Devious Laughter, The Shape of Things and Brighton Beach Memoirs.

As part of her senior seminar this year, she will design costumes for the Domino Players’ upcoming plays Norway.Today and 4.48 Psychosis, which will be staged in February. Though she will receive her Albright diploma in December, Galka will return to campus to help with the costumes.

 “I’ve always been art-minded, and fashion is art,” she said. “I love the idea of creating something wearable.”


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