“How’s your sex life Darhhhling?” It’s a question perhaps not often asked in places such as Opera Australia, but this was Maruska Blyszczak’s disarming calling card through the many facets of her life. But in spite of her hilarious and outrageous repartee, Maruska was an intensely private and scrupulously professional woman. Her costumes will be an enduring legacy that she leaves behind, the dedication, passion and meticulous eye for detail all present in every piece she created. Her true gift was for men’s tailoring, an understanding of the male physique and how to dress men for the stage so they both looked immaculately in character but also had comfort and the ability to move and perform accordingly. She was a fantastic teacher and mentor who loved any opportunity to pass on her knowledge and skills. Her dedication and high quality of work led her to receive the Green Room Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
Maruska Blyszczak. Photographs supplied
Maruska was born on July 23, 1943 to parents who both worked in the theatre. She grew up in Poland and as a teenager lived in a boarding school and studied at the Technical School of Costume Making. She came to Australia for a one-year holiday in about 1967, thinking she would travel around the country, but instead instantly found employment with the ABC.
After more travelling and a misadventure with a misguided marriage in Egypt, Maruska returned to Australia and worked for JC Williamson, then for Bob Murphy before joining the Victoria State Opera in 1982 and Opera Australia from 1996. She loved her work and her exquisite tailoring was held in the highest esteem in the theatre world. Singers are eccentric, self-centred, delicate human beings, she once said. They come in and I say “take your clothes off”. She would then proceed to take her unique inner thigh measurements. Maruska’s parrot-like laugh can still be heard reverberating around the Melbourne Opera Centre as she measured her latest victim.
Maruska’s costumes have been seen on the stage for many of Australia’s theatre and opera companies. She worked on more than 150 productions for Opera Australia, as well as a host of other contracts for many other Australian arts companies. The wardrobe room at the Melbourne Opera Centre was often as full of music-theatre costumes as it was for opera. She worked on countless Production Company shows, was entrusted with the amazing greens of Wicked for the Gordon Frost Organisation, as well as shows such as Jersey Boys and Guys and Dolls to name a few, as well as 30 productions for the Victorian Opera.
Maruska was at her most open, warm and charming when she spoke of her love of animals. A dog was usually by her side, and quickly hidden when “the powers that be” came down from Sydney to visit the Melbourne office. She was one of the most genuine and caring souls you could hope to meet. Few people have an innate ability to make others feel truly important, but Maruska had a genuine curiosity for others. She loved hearing their stories and giving them the time to share them. She was refreshingly honest in her questioning and never kept her thoughts hidden. Her unique ability to befriend anyone from any walk of life was a true credit to her character, judging people on who they are as a person not what they look like or where they are from. She tried to understand people even when she herself often felt misunderstood.
Her heart was one that had experienced life’s traumas and had been broken many times over. She was fiercely protective and did not want to show her vulnerability. For her animals and those humans who broke through the wall, her love could not have been warmer. She protected those she loved courageously, she was generous, kind, warm, affectionate and understanding.
Maruska died on August 4, 2018. A giant hole has been left behind at the Melbourne Opera Centre. What has been lost forever is her extensive knowledge and unique expertise in the creation and construction of a theatre bespoke tailoring.