Boris Godunov

Opera is back at the Met for the 2021-2022 season with its Live in HD opener, Boris Godunov, a Pushkin-based Russian opera about a dubious tsar and the haunting of his rise to power. To scale down production, this was the first time that the Met performed the opera in its original 1869 format, which had obvious distinctions: no leading lady, no intermissions.

A scene from Boris Godunov / Metropolitan Opera

Due to technical difficulties at the theater, our local audience missed the first 20-30 minutes of the performance and was left to mentally piece together the fragmented story. An inauspicious omen for the opera ? I think so… Truth be told, the opera felt disjointed ─ whether due to the composer’s intentions or the abbreviated simulcast narrative, I can’t be sure. While I was disappointed in the latter, I went for the Russian language experience and René Pape and was duly rewarded by each. And as a bonus, the audience was compensated with free tickets and a free small popcorn for the inconvenience. Nice !

As there was no central female character in this version of Boris Godunov, I had to get creative with my outfit. Intriguingly, it was the Russian people that provided the influx of inspiration. I wanted to be a peasant (or serf) and knew just what I would wear…

Folkwear 128 Russian Settlers’ Dress

The sarafan is a traditional Russian folk dress popularized by peasants, but was also worn by the dignified in the imperialist regime. Typically worn with a loose shirt and apron, the jumper can be made as plain or as fancy as a seamstress wishes. Since my aim was to look poor and deplete on the outstretching Steppes, I left much of the red washed linen and cream double gauze as unadorned as possible.

This was my first time using a Folkwear pattern, which has long been on my sewing wish list. Included in the packet were detailed instructions on how to modify (or modernize) the traditional style of the garment as well as helpful information for embroidering the shoulders of the blouse. I opted to gather the back of my sarafan and stitched matching ribbon to hold the fabric in place.

A scarf from my mother’s dresser drawer transformed into a babushka tied around my head and the single braid trailing down my back.

Although I was thrilled with my authentic creation, someone else was not… “You need to throw that out right after you wear it; it’s AWFUL !!!!!” wailed my mother as I walked out dressed in full costume. She grimaced and turned away after every press of the camera button ─ it’s a wonder I even got any pictures to share !

As (un)flattering as the sarafan may have been, it was the perfect outfit for an opera where the peasantry plays a major role. I just wish I had been able to see the entire opera !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Boris Godunov ─ Modest Mussorgsky (1869)
Live in HD air date: October 9, 2021

Cast:
Boris Godunov ─ René Pape
Grigory ─ David Butt Phillip
Shuisky ─ Aleksey Bogdanov
Pimen ─ Ain Anger
Varlaam ─ Ryan Speedo Green

Credits:
Conductor ─ Sebastian Weigle
Production ─ Stehpen Wadsworth
Set Designer ─ Ferdinand Wögerbauer
Costume Designer ─ Moidele Bickel
Lighting Designer ─ Duane Schuler
Fight Director ─ Steve Rankin
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Angel Blue

Striped Seersucker Shirtdress

It may be apparent by now that I am an alliteration advocate. As much as I try to suppress my affection, there’s just something about starting a succession of words with the same alphabetical letter that tickles my fancy. Inadvertently, my new summer creation was an alliterative delight: a striped seersucker shirtdress !

Here’s how it began…

McCall’s 6891 Shirtdress

Originally purchasing this pattern to sew for a new Met production of Die Zauberflöte (which was subsequently canceled), it sat shelved, along with the yards of white chambray linen I bought for the project, without a hope except for the fact that I did very much like the pattern.

Nadine Sierra in Die Zauberflöte (Opéra National de Paris)

The idea of sewing a shirtdress never strayed too far from my mind, but it wasn’t until an issue of “Julie’s Picks” swatch club popped in the mail that the romanticized idea rose to the forefront as a planned reality. Could it have been a coincidence that the pattern suggestion for a dandy red stripe cream seersucker be none other than the McCall’s (reprinted as Butterick) shirtdress pattern I bought for the scrapped Met project ? Whether you believe in coincidences or not, I had my sign: I was making the dress !

“Julie’s Picks” July 2021 issue, Page 3

With this pattern being a Palmer and Pletsch design with extensive fitting instructions, I spent a good week perfecting the fit with the adjustment lines on the pattern tissue. My only substantial tweak was taking out ½ inch at the shoulder blade level to eliminate a gaping armhole in the back.

I wish there would have been more fitting tips besides the most common ones because I then needed to alter the sleeve pieces to compensate for the reduced armhole length. The attempt was in vain. As a result, my sleeve cap was gathered more than I had intentioned…

But, no matter !

The dress (a combination of Views C and D) turned out in tip top fashion and gave me the feel of a 1950’s waitress/housewife. I especially love the red “jelly” buttons that appear like hard candies on the peppermint stripe cotton.

I loved nearly everything about this dress: the American made fabric, the fit, the retro vibe, the color scheme… the list goes on. And while it wasn’t imperative that its descriptors start with the same letter, the fact that my striped seersucker shirtdress was an alliterative creation was just the icing on the cake.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Mathilde Wrap Dress: Two Ways

Made famous by Diane von Fürstenberg in the 1970’s, the wrap dress has always been a favorite of mine for its balance of polished professionalism and flattering femininity. Whether for a meeting or a casual luncheon with friends, the possibilities for wearing the classic silhouette are almost endless.
Many patterns exist on the web. However, when I came across the Untitled Thoughts Mathilde Wrap Dress sewing pattern, I felt a greater appeal and so ventured to sew my first real wrap dress.

Untitled Thoughts Mathilde Wrap Dress

The sewing was easy; the pattern was full of well-explained instructions and tips. Would the fabric fare the same ? When I first beheld the demure swatch of garden rose double brushed poly knit in one of my issues of Julie’s Picks swatch club, I barely noticed it. It was, after all, a “hot” polyester. But when my mother insisted that the color palate was a terrific match for my complexion, how was I to pass it up ? Mother knows best !

And she was right ! Despite my warranted hesitations about wearing polyester in the sweltering Florida heat and humidity, the fabric was a breeze to sew and wasn’t that warm, especially with the flutter sleeve option.

I call this my “Compliments Dress” since every time I wear it out, at least one person tells me how much they like its overall look. Perfectly paired with pearls and a blush of the cheek, I felt like a paragon of femininity. And that is a very good way to feel.

But I wasn’t done !

To me, it is important for a wrap dress to feature svelte ¾ length sleeves. Since my Compliments Dress was geared for spring and summer weather, I kept the sleeves short and free. I had other plans for the longer sleeve…

One of the most valuable aspects of the Mathilde Wrap Dress is that it comes in three different styles, including a very chic peplum top. With yet another fabric from an issue of the swatch club (this time a nautical rayon knit !), I envisioned a preppy “boat dock” look that would be well suited to an elegant dinner followed by an evening walk along the beach… or for sitting out by the pool !

The description of the pattern confides that it feels like “secret pajamas.” After wearing each style, I can testify to the truth of that statement.
A flattering design, a beginner’s level of sewing, and comfort for days─ what could be better ? The Mathilde Wrap is a winner !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha


Guacamole Salad

Picture this: a clarion afternoon where the sun glimmers through the leaves of green, summer trees and a warm breeze whispers through the grass like a secret. There’s hardly a care and friends are supping during a picnic lunch, which wanes to a sleepy lull of harmless gossip.

Although this description may be too idealistic for a humdrum summer day, I feel it fitting for a dish such as Ina Garten’s idyllic Guacamole Salad. Below is the recipe…

Ingredients

1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and ½ inch diced
1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup small-diced red onion
2 Tbs. minced jalapeño peppers, seeded (2 peppers)*
½ tsp. lime zest
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup good olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. minced garlic
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper*
2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and ½ inch diced*
1-2 cups fresh or frozen corn (optional)

*This recipe can easily be altered to your individual tastes and preferences. When I made this salad for the Lise Davidsen/Jonas Kaufmann Walküre concert, it was to be served to ladies of elegant deportment, and so, I significantly cut down on the spicy ingredients.
Depending on availability, substitutions can be made with the bell peppers (any color will do) as well as the avocados. Ina Garten is an advocate for Hass avocados, but the large, green Florida ones work just as well in this recipe.
I also like to add corn kernels to this salad for yet another dimension in texture, color, and flavor. Use what you like and can readily find in your area.

Instructions

Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeño peppers, (corn, if you are using), and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables and beans. Toss well.

Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.

**********

Whether for a quiet lunch or a fiery fiesta, this salad is a hit ! It can be doubled and served to a crowd (the original recipe indicates that it serves 6) and can also be made ahead of time.

Enjoy !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies ─ No White Flour, No White Sugar

Perhaps even more classic than chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin cookies have long been a staple in my life and are my dad’s undisputed favorite cookie. However, when I was no longer able to indulge in one of my favorite treats, innovation occurred, and a new mode of baking emerged.

This recipe is my “No White Flour, No White Sugar” adaption of Ina Garten’s Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies, which were the final touch to the Bayerische Staatsoper concert with Lise Davidsen and Jonas Kaufmann. Unlike the Barefoot Contessa, I didn’t sift any of my dry ingredients, nor did I add the eggs one at a time. Call it heresy, but the exacting methods of baking do not matter so much for this recipe.

Ingredients:

1½ cups pecans
2 sticks (½ lb.) softened butter
1 cup coconut sugar
1 cup maple syrup
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour (I used Einkorn whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
3 cups rolled oats
1½ cups raisins

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Chop pecans very coarsely and spread evenly on a sheet pan to bake for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly brown. Set aside to cool.

Cream the butter, coconut sugar, and maple syrup together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go into solution ! If your maple syrup is cold, it will solidify the butter somewhat. Here’s what my batter looked like after mixing:

Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt) and add to the bowl. Then add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

That’s it ! These cookies come out with a crisp outer edge and a softer inside. They will soften even more if left out overnight. Although devoid of the usual cane sugar and all-purpose flour, these cookies have the taste and texture of the original recipe and would fool even the most persnickety palate.

Enjoy !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Lise Davidsen and Jonas Kaufmann Sing “Die Walküre” in Concert

What happens when the world’s most sought-after tenor teams up with the world’s fastest rising opera star ?

Magic.

In a gem of a casting bill, Lise Davidsen and Jonas Kaufmann performed a concert version of Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre live from the Bayerische Staatsoper… and I had a front row seat !

The singers, who were at the top of their game, gave a performance that was as riveting as it was raw. Never once did I espy a break from character and the visual display of the revved up orchestra was a treat on its own. While each participant was exceptional, the real sparkler was Lise Davidsen. By the end of the final duet, my friends and I erupted into living room applause with an uncontrollable flood of “Brava !” And who said opera was boring ?

The Cuisine

A summer concert called for summer fare and I knew of the perfect dish: Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad ! Years ago, my mother would make this recipe and add corn kernels to increase the color, texture, and flavor. The salad’s fresh ingredients are the key: avocadoes, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onion, and black beans all tossed in a zingy lime marinade. “How bad can that be ?

Chris added to the table a plate of select cheeses and fruit and we all dove in with chips and crackers to our summer repast.

Of course, we couldn’t do without our sip of champagne…

Or cookies ! I baked a “No White Flour, No White Sugar” batch of Ina Garten’s Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies, which were probably more addictive than the regular way.

The Clothes

Thinking of a classical music concert brought to mind the solid black attire worn by the orchestra. It’s traditional and very sophisticated. As it so happened, I knew just what I would wear and didn’t have to go any farther than my mother’s closet.

Thank you for the shoes, Lynne !

While the dress is beautiful and classy on its own, there’s a greater story behind its black crepe and cutout detail. In 1986, my mother wore this same dress to a Christmas party at a Country Club and for as long as I can remember the photo from the occasion has graced our walls.

It’s clear that my mother’s Christmas dress from the 80’s has stood the test of time. So has Wagnerian opera… and Jonas Kaufmann ! And if the performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper was any indication of future success, Lise Davidsen should be joining the ranks, after a storied career, as one of the great Wagnerians in history.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Die Walküre (Act I) concert production
Richard Wagner
Bayerische Staatsoper
Munich, Germany
Live broadcast date: May 13, 2021
(Date seen: June 14, 2021)

Asher Fisch ─ Conductor

Lise Davidsen ─ Sieglinde
Jonas Kaufmann ─ Siegmund
Georg Zeppenfeld ─ Hunding

Lila Turns One !

My cousin, Rachel, is a beautiful redhead. She married Ted, also a redhead. When they announced that they were expecting a baby girl, it was natural to assume that she would be a towhead blond, right ? Ha ! Not even close…

Rachel and Ted’s wedding

Facetiousness aside, I had plans to sew something for little Lila, but Rachel had an unusual request in regards to dictates of dress: she did not want anything that was blatantly pink or blue and was planning on keeping things “gender neutral.” The challenge was accepted !

Rachel and Ted’s gender reveal

The concept of creating a girl outfit that was devoid of pink was more of a struggle than I imagined. Thankfully, an idea popped into my mind: Rachel and Ted had decorated Lila’s nursery in a nature theme. Yes ! I could easily fashion something that evoked the colors of nature ─ soft greens, creams, and maybe even a splash of burnt sienna. When I came across this printed cotton fabric, I knew I had my answer…

I fondly referred to this material as “peach squirrels” and knew it would be appropriate for Lila’s soon-to-be hair color. It checked all the boxes for my outfit. Now it was time to sew…
Using the same children’s pattern that served as the bedrock for Hope’s baby clothes, I opted to sew a romper since they can be classified as unisex.

The bodice was cut from the peach squirrels fabric while the bottom bloomers fit perfectly onto a tranquil sage green print. Not only was the outfit to be neutral, but also on trend with color blocking.

Sweet details, like bow tie pockets and back closure, made for a fun experience. I especially enjoyed utilizing my serger to finish the seams cleanly.

Here’s what the inside looked like before stitching the bodice and pants together…

And then… voilà ! A nature themed romper !

Was the romper, with its bloomer pants and bow ties, really gender neutral ? That’s debatable. Nevertheless, I was pleased at my attempt and even more thrilled to finally behold Lila wearing the creation. Here she is during her 12-month-old photo shoot:

A one-year-old in a one-of-a-kind… What a cutie !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Thank you to Rachel and Ted for allowing me to use these pictures of your sweet little girl !

Sequin Mail: Drafting a Cowl Neck “Chainmail” Tunic

When I began devising my plans for a complete “Wagnerian” outfit to wear to the Met concert celebrating the legendary German composer, I knew I wanted to include some sort of chainmail aspect to represent Medieval knights, which are so gallantly (and infamously) portrayed in many of Wagner’s operas. A showpiece necklace from Afghanistan was at the top of my list.

Thank you, Aunt Countess and Uncle Kim !

However, I struggled to devise the rest of the outfit due to the very specific nature of the necklace. And so, I looked beyond my closet and found a mesh fabric with matte silver sequin paillettes sewn onto its entire face for a reasonable price online.

Looking through historical fashion plates gave me the idea of imitating the drape of chainmail coifs (hooded headwear), but I didn’t want a full suit of armor. No, a simple, sleeveless cowl neck tunic was my intention…

And excerpt from “Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume” by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach
And excerpt from “Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume” by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach

While there were many patterns on the web for cowl neck tops, I didn’t like any of them ! Therefore, I decided to draft a pattern on my own using newspaper. There’s a wealth of knowledge out on the web for creating patterns and this article was particularly insightful in helping me create my cowl: https://www.threadsmagazine.com/2013/11/18/how-to-create-a-draped-cowl-neckline

Preliminary pattern pieces

After several knit mock-ups, I began what I thought would be a messy cutting process and prepped my work area with black garbage bags before tediously snipping around the sequins. Spoiler alert: hardly any sequins fell from the fabric !

The mesh selvedge was suitable enough for the facing so I placed the upper part of the front pattern piece on top of the mesh. What a time saver !

The sequins along the seamlines were promptly picked off to avoid getting caught under the sewing machine needle before I stitched the two sides together. Ta-da !

At this point, the tunic was too long. A bib hem seemed like the perfect solution to mimic the drape of the cowl neck…

Drafting a hem piece was easy enough, however, in hindsight, it would have been better to eliminate all the “place on fold” edges and create full sized pattern pieces; cutting was a one-side-at-a-time job and flipping the uncut sides distorted the shape of the pieces somewhat.

Helpful hint: to check how the lines/curves of a foldline piece will look when doubled, place a mirror next to the edge of the pattern piece and examine its full shape.

I paired my sequin tunic with faux leather pants using StyleArc’s Margaret pattern, a too-tight disaster that was salvaged by the longer hem of the tunic ! Whew !

StyleArc’s Margaret Pant

And what would a Wagnerian-inspired outfit be without a Ring ? Although it wasn’t fashioned from the gold of the Rhine, this antique pearl ring belonged to a relative of mine.

While modern, my outfit gave me the right representation of Wagnerian interpretation. I also learned that pattern drafting wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Hojotoho !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Wagnerians in Concert

Over the years, I have found that the more I am exposed to Wagner, the more I love it. It’s complex, lush, and completely absorbing if given the right circumstances. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who harbors a cultish hankering for Wagnerian music. And so, off to Chris’s we go for another Met Stars Live in Concert series !

Broadcast live from the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany, the grand foyer proved to be one of the most gorgeous settings for a concert with the lighting shifting to fit the mood of each song. Although the program was not entirely Wagnerian (a thimbleful of R. Strauss was thrown into the mix), the quartet of Elza van den Heever, Christine Goerke, Andreas Schager, and Michael Volle made the most of the arias and duets… and the staircases ! There was a choreographed sequence of how the singers would enter and exit to avoid cutting into the next performance all while capitalizing on the thespian potential of the Neo-Baroque architecture.

The Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany

The greatest (and most accurate) of these tableaux came during the penultimate number with Elza van den Heever and Christine Goerke acting out the duet from Act II of Lohengrin, complete with balcony betrayal. Juicy !

The Cuisine

Our afterparty fare was a European hodgepodge of Gruyère and Bleu, open faced canapés, sauerkraut salad (similar to Korean kimchi), Riesling, and… banana bread. Well, it was almost European.

The recipe for the banana bread is an adapted version of Cookie and Kate’s Whole Wheat Banana Bread with maple syrup as the sweetener (and butter in place of the oil). For years it has been one of my go-to staples for a “No White Flour, No White Sugar” treat. Thanks, Kate !

The Clothes

In thinking of a Wagnerian-inspired outfit, several elements came to mind:
1) Medieval gowns with long, wide sleeves
2) Knights in chainmail
3) Leather, lots of leather

Each of these characteristics can usually be observed during a typical Wagnerian opera. However, I wanted to create a more modern look and sought to avoid the following fashion pitfalls insomuch as looking like a:
1) Gothic punk
2) Biker
3) Cosplayer

A challenge, indeed. Leaving the angel sleeves behind, the rest of my outfit gave me just the right combination of Wagnerian features with a completely modern appeal.

The outfit and the concert were a terrific celebration and reminder of why I enjoy Wagner so much: drama and beauty intertwined as the complete work of art.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

How exactly did I create my sequin tunic ? The answers can be found in my accompanying tutorial post: http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2021/05/29/sequin-mail-drafting-a-cowl-neck-chainmail-tunic/

Cast and Credits

Wagnerians in Concert
Hessisches Staatstheater
Wiesbaden, Germany
Live broadcast date: May 8, 2021
(Date seen: May 20, 2021)

Elza van den Heever ─ soprano
Christine Goerke ─ soprano
Andreas Schager ─ tenor
Michael Volle ─ bass-baritone
Craig Terry ─ piano

Birthday Blues (and Purples, too !) ─ Matching Birthday Dresses

Have you ever come across an object that so uncannily embodies the persona of someone you know that you almost have to do a double take ? This is exactly what occurred as I was thumbing through an issue of “Julie’s Picks” swatch club one summer afternoon.

There it was: a royal blue burnout velvet that had me screaming inside my head, “Faith !!!!”

Faith has an affinity for blue (and royal blue in particular) the way I have an alliteration affinity (and am an absolutely ardent advocate about appropriate and ample application !). When I spotted an additional royal purple colorway listed on the page, the wheels in my head began to cycle at rapid RPMs. Matching dresses !

Was I being irrational ? After all, I have never met Faith in person and trying to do a fitting online seemed impossible. But that didn’t matter… it was destiny and as soon as the fabrics became available, I snatched up several yards of each.

Originally, I envisioned this duo of dresses for Christmas, but with no opera outfits to conjure, my schedule was left wide open. Since Faith and I share September birthdays that are 6 days apart, it seemed like an appropriate deadline and perfect birthday present. Birthday dresses, it is !

Now came the tricky part: choosing a pattern style that would suit two completely different figures ! Because of the low cost, I turned to Lekala patterns since I knew that they offered customized PDF patterns based on individual measurements for a bargain. Velvet begs for the opportunity to be draped and ruched so the faux wrap style of #4078 was my top choice. The V-neck and triangular inset promised a slimmer appearance, which is desired by all.

Agreeing to the style and process, Faith sent her measurements and I began to work… but first, a detour. Since the almost-neon purple ITY knit I ordered for the lining of my dress was ill-matched to the deep plum of the purple velvet, I decided to use the ITY knit for a mock-up, which I wore to Jonas Kaufmann’s concert in July.

The mock-up proved two things: 1) the dress needed to be looser in the bust and upper arms, and 2) the hem could be lengthened just a smidge to cover the knee, as per Faith’s request. This was done for the real deal. Taking precautions, I cut out the patterns with extra seam allowances, but sewed at only a ¼” seam. Just a tip: cut your stretch velvets with the right sides facing each other… it’s too slippery the other way !

So was the grand plan pulled off without a hitch ? Yes ! Cutting it close, I mailed Faith her dress just days before her birthday, holding my breath to learn of its fit or misfit. It was a gamble, but I heaved a mighty sigh when I received word of its perfection. Whew !

Faith chose to style her dress casually with leggings and boots and with coordinating accessories. As for me, I had the professional modes in mind and added gold jewelry and stockings to complement a dressed up business look.

This was an accomplishment I will always remember: sewing my first fitted project for someone, virtually. The moment was all the more relished by the satisfactory result and the shared bond of two friends with matching birthday dresses.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha