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Originally published Sunday, October 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Crowds wait for hours for Opera "garage sale"

She was hoping for a Viking helmet. That's what she waited two hours in line to buy. But by the time they let Denise Krzycki into Seattle...

Seattle Times reporter

She was hoping for a Viking helmet. That's what she waited two hours in line to buy.

But by the time they let Denise Krzycki into Seattle Opera's costume sale yesterday, all she could find was a breastplate.

"I wanted the hat with the horns," sighed Krzycki, who plans to be a Greek goddess for Halloween. "Spice it up a bit."

Seattle Opera put some of its wardrobe on sale to the public yesterday for the first time in 20 years, drawing several hundred people.

They sifted through the robes of madmen, covered with stage blood. They handled the fine, sheer skirts of ballerinas. They tried on the silver headgear of Roman warriors. They pulled floral peasant blouses over their own.

Many of the finest costumes were already gone. There was a private sale for subscribers, donors and volunteers on Friday. And yesterday morning, when the public sale began, theater troupes from as far away as Mount Vernon came early, buying what they needed to boost their own stock.

For the Opera's costume-shop manager, Susan Davis, that sight was the most heartening.

"They won't be stuck in a storage box," Davis said. "They're going to get a new life."

The goal was to raise enough money to buy a new dye vat for the costume shop. Staff members said the private sale for subscribers and donors on Friday had already raised about $10,000, enough money to replace the vat.

The Opera parted with two tons of garments, from ankle armor to silk skirts to black-painted cowboy hats. It took several months to price all the items; some went for as little as $1, while others went for as much as $200.

Matina Fresenius, 36, came away with three bags full of clothes, including peasant dresses and Roman headgear. Some of it she would give to neighborhood children, she said. Some she may just display in her house, like pieces of art.

"I love the beauty of the costumes, and the artistry that goes into it," Fresenius said.

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Even as they made admiring sounds, some shoppers were not always sure what they were looking at, or buying. One shopper approached the cashier carrying a long mat with wooden sticks embedded and a chin strap attached.

"It's an ethnic, peasant, Russian" said Kim Tepe, costume-shop assistant, fitting it on her head.

"Oh, fabulous!" said the shopper.

"Or else," Tepe said, "It's a table runner."

As morning turned to afternoon, the line outside still stood hundreds strong. The staff warned shoppers that pickings were slim. But for some, it had become a matter of principle to stay in line. With each small group that got in, a roar of applause arose from the line.

"Even if it sucks, you have to see for yourself that it sucks," said Jacqueline Jensen, 23.

The wait was worth it, said 36-year-old James Lathrop, mainly because he came with friends.

He eyed a costume for the chief executioner in Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot," for Halloween. It was a skimpy black outfit, with armbands that had silver latex spikes. Really, the costume was too small for him.

Instead, he tried on a $75 snake costume. The manager explained how it had been designed for Alberich, a character in Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle.

Lathrop stood there, immobilized by the snake's fiberglass belly, listening to the story. A tail of vinyl scales spiraled out 20 feet from his body. He looked at her.

"Um," Lathrop said, "I'll think about it."

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com

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