Lauren Allmeyer , The Atlanta Opera's assistant costume shop manager and wardrobe supervisor, sews a medical mask (left) then shapes it (photo courtesy of The Atlanta Opera)

The Atlanta Opera to craft medical masks for area hospitals

EarRelevant Staff* | 24 MAR 2020 @ 6:00am ET (last updated 31 MAR 2020 @ 9:30pm ET)

ATLANTA, GA—  On Monday evening The Atlanta Opera announced that it has partnered with Grady Health System to craft medical masks for use in area hospitals affected by shortages in personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Atlanta Opera has a fully equipped costume and wardrobe department ready to adapt during the current crisis. All Costume Shop employees will dedicate their working hours to the effort, as work on upcoming productions has ceased.

Atlanta Opera and Grady Health System CEOs Tomer Zvulun and John Haupert connected on the idea late last week. Haupert is an avid opera fan, a supporter of The Atlanta Opera, and a board member of The Santa Fe Opera. The partnership with Grady is model for innovation in arts organizations during COVID-19 pandemic.


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“When I pitched the idea to John, he immediately connected me with his vice president, Mark Terranova, who is in charge of supply chain, and Mark responded very enthusiastically to the idea” said Zvulun. “This is a time of great need for the medical community and the community at large. The question that we ask ourselves is no longer ‘how can we save a production?’ but ‘how can we save lives?’” he added.

A 3M 1860 healthcare and particulate respirator and surgical mask rated N95. The masks made by The Atlanta Opera costume shop are intended to be worn over these. (image: 3M Corporation)

A 3M 1860 healthcare and particulate respirator and surgical mask rated N95. The masks made by The Atlanta Opera costume shop are intended to be worn over these. (image: 3M Corporation)

The mask design, provided by the hospital, is meant to cover N95 respirator mask and prolong its usable life. N95 refers to the mask’s NIOSH air filtration rating for of filtering respirators as classified by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

There are ordinary N95 masks made for common uses such as constriction work, but N95 masks intended for surgical use must in addition meet standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a combination which is beyond FDA standards alone for common surgical masks.

The differences are spelled out in a downloadable (PDF) techncal bulliten by the 3M Corpoation, a major manutacturer of N95 respirator masks, entitled Surgical N95 vs. Standard N95 – Which to Consider?

Joanna Schmink, Costume Director for The Atlanta Opera, created a prototype early this week, and Grady Hospital will be sending operating room sheets to the opera for use as fabric, so that Costume Shop employees can work on the project.


Videi: The Atlanta Opera costume shop producing masks for hospitals. (credit: Felipe Barral/IGNI Productions) *


Word also comes that some hospitals are also in need of surgical gowns as well. If so, The Atlanta Opera costime shop will soon be working on that need as well.

As part of an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, The Atlanta Opera recently canceled the final two performances of its recent production of Porgy and Bess, in advance of local and regional government officials’ calls to do so. The company paid the cast, chorus, crew and orchestra responsible for preparing and performing Porgy and Bess for the entire run. All told, more than 200 people worked on stage, in the orchestra pit or behind the scenes to deliver the production.  ■


South African bass Musa Ngqungwana, who was scheduled to portray Porgy in the two cancelled Atlanta Opera performances on Mar 13 & 15, in a series of highlights from Porgy and Bess, in a dress rehearsal. *


Musa Ngqungwana sings “I’m On My Way” in a rehearsal of Porgy and Bess. *


* When viewing video, click the “full screen” icon in the lower right corner to enlarge.

This report is in large part drawn directly from The Atlanta Opera’s March 23 press release, with additional researched content by Mark Gresham.

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