Fedora, Princess Fedora

A Russian princess, a murdered fiancé, fatal misunderstanding, poison… count me in ! As a rarely performed verismo piece in the opera repertoire, how was I to pass up my chance to see such a tempestuous treat as Fedora ?! While Umberto Giordano may not be as well-known a composer as Verdi or Puccini, his glorious melodies were worthy of all the passion and praise heaped onto his compatriots.

Sonya Yoncheva in a promotional photo for David McVicar’s new production of Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

Once again, the Met’s new Fedora was a David McVicar production, which initially evoked a stifled yawn from me. Lately, his productions have been starting to look the same and I was in no humor for a repeat. Surprisingly kept traditional and set in the early 1880’s, the sets and costumes (and jewels !) were over the top in opulence, especially Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s gowns with their copious displays of bustled satin skirts and cuirasse bodices. Boredom ? What boredom ?!

A scene from Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

The singers themselves were fine; Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Beczała were a verismo power couple with comedic blips from Rosa Feola and Lucas Meacham. But while the visual glamours and vocal displays were enlivening, my favorite part of the performance occurred during one of Giordano’s masterful orchestral interludes when Fedora reunited and danced with her deceased “ghost” fiancé in her Parisian apartment. Perhaps that was a theatrical invention on McVicar’s part, but the powerful combination of tender passion and heartrending music gave me trouble in preventing sooty tears from streaming down my cheek. Enchanting !!

Piotr Beczała as Loris Ipanoff and Sonya Yoncheva as Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

“The name’s Fedora… Princess Fedora.” I have my dear friend, Faith, to thank for the inspiration for my outfit. A few years ago on my birthday, Faith gifted me with the most gorgeous beaded rhinestone appliqué belt. My eyes were dazzled at its sight and the thoughts of rich ball gowns waltzed through my head. Unfortunately, many metal-plated settings tarnish to pewter with no auxiliary assistance and so in order to not be disappointed by a lackluster embellishment, I let the belt sit unattended for over two years to “test” its mettle (and metal ─ ha !). The result was encouraging; not a single change came to its patina during its prescribed indolence. Its time to shine was now.

Because the gown on which I was to use the belt was to be a tribute of thanks to Faith, it had to be royal blue, no question ! Faith’s favorite color is blue. The satin was ordered months in advance. However, I did not begin work on the dress until nearly three weeks before the opera ! Fortunately, through Tatiana Kozorovitsky’s detailed lessons in her Dressmaking Academy, I was not in a panic since I knew the secrets of cutting and sewing couture gowns with marked celerity. This endeavour proved no different, although I was exceedingly pleased with the fit of the bodice in comparison to past gowns I’ve made. Experience really does help !


A cold front rendered the need for a coat and boy, did I have a pretty one ! This vintage fur-trimmed, gold and cream brocade coat was bought years ago at a resale store.

Cheap white gloves (Walmart’s finest), and an economical crown bought on Amazon made me feel like the regal princess I intended.

I told my mother that I wanted my hairstyle to look like one of Kate Middleton’s elegant chignons…

Not bad !

Thank you, Faith, for the most beautiful inspiration piece ! It made my gown absolutely perfect. Feeling like an imperial princess of the surest nature, I was able to surrender to all the charms and passions of the performance. Isn’t that what opera is about, anyway ?

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Fedora ─ Umberto Giordano (1898)
Live in HD air date: January 14, 2023

Cast:

Fedora ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Loris Ipanoff ─ Piotr Beczała
Olga ─ Rosa Feola
De Siriex ─ Lucas Meacham

Credits:

Conductor ─ Marco Armiliato
Production ─ David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Movement Director ─ Sara Erde
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Christine Goerke

Pumpkin Raisin Bread

Some recipes are instant keepers. This is one of them ! While not an original recipe, my mother discovered this treasure while searching online. After a test run, it became our family recipe and has been presented as a thoughtful gift to loved ones on countless occasions. Many friends have asked for the recipe, so here it is !

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 15-oz can 100% pure pumpkin
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Generously grease two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans with butter and dust with flour or use cooking spray. Tip: my mother always saves the butter wrappers to use in the bottom of the loaf pans, which prevents a disaster.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, and pecans (if using). Whisk until well combined; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed with an electric mixer until just blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until very light and fluffy, a few minutes. Beat in the pumpkin. The mixture might look grainy and curdled at this point ─ that’s okay.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Tip: coating the raisins and pecans in the flour mixture before mixing will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pans, dividing evenly, and sprinkle with extra raisins and pecans, if desired.

Bake for 65 – 75 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Butter the tops of the loaves immediately !! This is a small detail that makes a palpable impact.
Let the loaves cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. (Or just leave in the pans to cool on their own.)

That’s it ! This recipe yields two regular sized loaves or five mini loaves. Moist and tender, the bread is almost foolproof ─ I’ve thrown the ingredients in out of order, barely followed the directions, used whole wheat flour and coconut sugar instead of the regulars and still, the bread turns out great. It makes a scrumptious snack any time of the day or year.

Enjoy !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

La Traviata: The Real Violetta

With the satellite repaired at my local haunt, I returned to the theater to punch my ticket for La Traviata, an opera, which, while not a favorite of mine, is one that cannot be denied no matter how many times it is shown in the theaters ─ the music is just too good ! After all, who can resist a bubbling brindisi and soaring arias ?

Nadine Sierra as Violetta / Metropolitan Opera

Although there were some initial issues with the picture quality and crackling sound in the cinema, the performance waxed better and better, culminating in one of the greatest finales I’ve ever seen incarnated in the opera. The tears were real. The emotion was all-encompassing… I love a good death scene and this was it ! Bravi, Nadine and Stephen !

Nadine Sierra and Stephen Costello in La Traviata / Metropolitan Opera

Twice had I seen La Traviata in the theaters before this current jaunt and as I was beginning to think of ideas for my latest outfit, I had one prohibition: I did not want to wear another red dress ! My opinions about Michael Mayer’s revival production haven’t changed much from my first time seeing it in 2018 and Susan Hilferty’s costumes, although beautiful, were not something I wanted to replicate for my own closet. Rather, I was inspired by the original Violetta, the one immortalized in Alexandre Dumas Jr.’s novel, La Dame aux Camélias.

Marie Duplessis, converted to Marguerite Gautier and Violetta Valéry in written and theatrical texts, was the real-life Parisian courtesan who lived and died during the 1840’s. Over the summer, I read La Dame aux Camélias and was caught between frustration and pity over Marie’s hapless fate. I wanted to recreate her. And so, I began researching the time period and everything central to women’s fashion.

Early Victorian Style: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, circa 1840’s

Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 was my treasure trove for resources and my aim was to use one of the extant designs as the basis for creating my dress.

A gown from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1

Although enlarging the corresponding pattern pieces in the book to their proper scale (800%), an initial mock-up proved that more alterations would be needed in order to have the dress fit my figure. Time was like quicksand through the hourglass and the thought of applying modern day adjustments was a hopeless endeavour. Another thought popped into my mind: draping !

I had never draped in my life, but it seemed like the more expeditious route to pursue. What did I have to lose ? Using the magnified patterns as a guide, I attempted my first draped garment. My results were appealing.

Transferring the darts and adding seam allowances to the muslin pieces made for quick work, but more fitting issues arose as the bodice was cut too short and the waist was left too loose for my corseted figure. Oh, well ! It wasn’t too shabby for my first attempt at a couture technique.

With a hairdo that had my mother revolting in horror, I was ready to enact my tribute to Marie Duplessis, the “real” Violetta.

In addition to draping, I also tried my hand at cartridge pleating for the skirt, piped the armholes and waistline, and used a hook and eye placket to close the back. So 1840’s !

The creamy white satin was stunningly gorgeous, but by far my favorite part of the outfit was the wooden camellia magnet corsage that my cousin, Rosemary, fashioned for me.

Thank you, Rosemary !

With naturally preserved salal leaves, the bloom completely set off my outfit. Rosemary has a tremendous business creating real-look softened wood florals for weddings and events. And she ships worldwide, too, so be sure to check out her site ! https://www.rosemarysgardenflorals.com/

I loved wearing this outfit along with all the Maria Callas/Scarlett O’Hara vibes it brought me. Through a sickly, “kept” woman, I learned much about the 1840’s and opera’s greatest heroine. Marie Duplessis: the real Violetta.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

La Traviata ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1853)
Live in HD air date: November 5, 2022

Cast:
Violetta Valéry ─ Nadine Sierra
Alfredo Germont ─ Stephen Costello
Giorgio Germont ─ Luca Salsi

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Callegari
Production ─ Michael Mayer
Set Designer ─ Christine Jones
Costume Designer ─ Susan Hilferty
Lighting Designer ─ Kevin Adams
Choreographer ─ Lorrin Latarro
Revival Stage Director ─ Sarah Ina Meyers
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

Medea: The Opera That Wasn’t, The Outfit That Was

Clopping up the stairs to the ticket booth at my local theater, I received devastating news: “Unfortunately, there will be no opera today. Our satellite is down and nobody came to fix it this week,” said the bespectacled man behind the glass. Imagine my abject disappointment. With no other options, I called my ride and headed back home without the chance to hear Cherubini’s splendid music or see the marvelous singers display the prowess of their gifted larynxes.
Despite the cinema’s snafu, I still had an outfit to wear, and I wasn’t about to let that go unseen.

Concept

The drab, tortured promotional photos for Medea gave me no inspiration as to what to create for the Met’s inaugural production of the opera. There are only so many times a black dress can be worn without the accompaniment of jaded yawns, no matter how haute (or grunge) the variations. Black was not in my future, at least for Medea.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Medea / Metropolitan Opera

Matthew Polenzani and Sondra Radvanovsky in Medea / Metropolitan Opera

For advanced enrichment, I read Eurypides’s play to prepare for Medea. Subsequently, my plan was to draw from Medea’s story of an outsider brought to Corinth for the purpose of lament and revenge. A Grecian-style dress in drapey jersey knit seemed to be an auspicious beginning. However, that thought was discarded like a gum wrapper onto the pavement by the advent of something more scintillating. During the summer, my friend, Judi, had given me a garbage bag full of high end upholstery samples that she had received from a friend who owns an interior design firm in Ft. Lauderdale. The samples were sumptuous ! Most particularly, I was attracted to a one yard piece of embroidered serpentine fabric with stylized pomegranate seeds.

Anar Trellis Serpentine in Crimson / Zoffany

Execution

The design was wildly exotic and could effortlessly represent both the harrowing scenes of ancient Greek tragedy and the fruits and vegetation of the Near East. A column skirt seemed to be the standout choice since preserving every inch of the embroidered material was a top priority. But what else to go with the skirt ?
All of the manufacturer’s tags were left on the samples so I researched the brand and found plenty of inspiration from enticing design stills.

The Cotswold Manor Collection from Zoffany

Although I wouldn’t have originally thought of it, Zoffany paired the exact same trellis fabric I had in my hands with vivid cobalt blues. And serendipitously, I had a piece of cobalt blue velvet in the bag of samples. A sartorial love match was made !

Immediately, I had my vision: a boxy crop top that would be simple enough so as to not interfere with the wildness of the skirt, but elegant and accented enough to stand on its own. It was a fine line to balance, but I knew it could be done.
Fabrics-store.com offers a range of free sewing patterns to complement their bread-and-butter linen. To the shoestring costumer, ‘free’ is such an appealing word and so I downloaded the Agustina Boxy Top pattern to use with the pelagic blue velvet.

Agustina Boxy Top Pattern / Fabrics-store.com

While the pattern had its merits, my fabric wasn’t exactly the “suggested” material and therefore rendered the need for additional tailoring. Should I add darts ? No─ I had a better idea: create vaulted pleats pinched at the center front ! This produced the shorter-in-the-front, “scooped” crop top look I had dreamed in my head and after shortening the sleeves, I had an architectural masterpiece.

Shaping at the hips omitted the need for side seams while a back vent and coordinating zipper allowed for movement.

I fashioned a waist yoke with leftover linen from my Boris Gudonov sarafan and it was a perfect match in color and texture. Gorgeous !

Life isn’t always as expected. And although I missed Medea, I didn’t regret my couture ensemble that could rival the cover of any fashion-forward magazine. My only hope is that the theater’s satellite issues are resolved before the next transmission.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

My Costumes Were Featured in the P.E.O. Record

You read that right: my largest sewing project to date was recently featured in P.E.O.’s magazine, The Record ! Take a look at the published article below…

In a “behind the scenes” peek, I thought it would be interesting to share some parts of the process of how this gigantic endeavour came to life.

How It All Began

I conceived the idea when the timing was right. With the Met still closed in early 2021 and no operas for which to design costumes, I needed something to occupy my time and also wanted a new challenge of working with different body shapes and sizes. Could I accomplish this mammoth project ? I pondered. After searching for patterns and fabrics while tallying prices, I felt the goal was doable. My mind was made up, so I called my chapter’s president and treasurer to run my grand scheme by them. At the March business meeting, I pitched the idea to the entire chapter, complete with cost analysis sheets, lists of materials needed, and samples of prospective fabrics to be used. The response was a tsunami of yeses. My sisters were “game” for anything !

Pattern Selection

Researching the styles from 1869 was the first step in formulating my plan. From my experience with opera and historical costuming, I had plenty of resources for specialized pattern companies. Ultimately, I chose to use Black Snail Patterns for the bodice, Truly Victorian Patterns for the skirt, and Laughing Moon Patterns for the hoopskirts, bustle pads, and the chemisettes. Each pattern was selected based on its finished garment style and how well they could be adapted to suit the Founders’ official portraits.

The Undergarments

It was absolutely crucial to construct the supportive undergarments of the outfits first ! Without a well fitting hoopskirt and bustle pad, the skirts could not be measured correctly. In the spirit of thriftiness and the need to maintain a strict budget, I thought it would be ingenious to use polyethene plumber’s tubing for the hoops instead of real steel hooping. After all, I had seen blogs of people making hoopskirts out of hula hoops and similar items. But as you can tell, that didn’t work out.

Maybe for a topsy-turvy, whimsical costume, this curlicue tubing would have been a winner. But for my historical ensembles, I had to break with the budget and buy steel hooping… much better !

With everyone fitted to a comfortable size, we moved onto the skirts, which were much less tedious than threading steel boning through ribbon channels. In May, I gave a demonstration of the progress that had been made to my chapter sisters at one of our regular meetings.

The hoopskirts had not yet been outfitted with crinoline mesh so the tunnels of steel were visibly apparent.

The skirt even had a pocket on the right side !

The Bodices

The Black Snail bodice pattern was historically accurate. Too accurate. Designed with the corseted body in mind, I knew I would have to make alterations since I had promised my models that they would NOT have to wear a corset, but also for the sake of convenience. Who would want to fasten all those itty bitty buttons down the front when the need for speed in dressing (and undressing) was of utmost importance ? One of the first changes made was to close the bodices with Velcro at the front. But that was just the tip of the iceberg !

Lynne’s Alterations

Out of all my models, I had the most challenging time fitting Lynne, who played Ella Stewart. While the pattern fit perfectly at the waist and bust, I could not manage to close the bodice at the neck, no matter how I finagled with the seams. Anne, who portrayed Mary Allen and was my invaluable “sous sewer,” thought inserting a small gore at the center back seam would add enough length for the neckline to meet at the front.

Nope !

Together, we toyed with ideas of substitutions, but nothing seemed to work. Then I had a “lightbulb” moment: just recently, I had taken a virtual fit and sew blouse class with Katrina Walker and recalled how she demonstrated a sleeve alteration using the “slash and spread” method. Taking what I learned in class, I applied it to the upper front of Lynne’s bodice.

A preliminary fitting showed promise. I then carried over the same adjustments to the paper pattern…

…and almost cried from ecstatics when Lynne tried on the new bodice. It was a perfect fit. Thank you, Katrina !

Other embellishments were needed in order for Lynne’s outfit to look spiffy. Since Ella Stewart’s portrait showed contrasting green appliques at the clavicles, Anne and I decided to continue with the color blocking theme and added dark green bands at the skirt and sleeve hems and a decorative yoke piece at the back waist. Lynne’s costume was easily classified as “Most Unique.”

Covid Scare

There was a near catastrophe when my original Suela Pearson came down with Covid just one day before our rehearsal and three days before the actual Founders’ Day event ! With hurried hands, Anne and I went to work to completely alter the costume in order to fit the new model. Miraculously, our skills paid off and the new amended ensemble was completed in time. And the best part ? No one knew a thing !

Showtime !

In an ordeal that spanned 10 months and required over 120 yards of fabric, I was able to accomplish the magnanimous feat with the ready help of my chapter sisters. When all the hard work was achieved, our chapter performed its P.E.O. themed fashion show to the local reciprocity group, showcasing each of the seven Founders’ style based on their original portraits.
Written into the narrated script was an “underwear demo,” which was designed to allow the audience a glimpse into how a lady would have started her dressing routine during the time period. That task fell to me. Remember what I had promised my models ? NO CORSETS !!

After strolling around the room in my “underwear,” it was now time for the models to make their appearance… Without further explanation, here are our seven Founders !

Hattie Briggs

Alice Coffin

Ella Stewart

Suela Pearson

Franc Roads

Alice Bird

Mary Allen

Each costume was as unique as the model wearing it and we were all so proud to honor our Founders in such a special way.

Thank Yous

“Style From the Stile: A Tribute to 1869 Fashion and the Founding of the P.E.O. Sisterhood” was a monster success, both with the local chapters and beyond. Through social media postings and publications, the show found its way to international acclaim. But the project would never have been possible without the enthusiastic and steadfast support of my chapter sisters. Nearly every member had a part ─ from covering and hand sewing buttons, to help with backstage dressing and stage directing. And a special thanks goes to Anne, who cut out every single piece of fabric !

As sisters, we bonded through the trials and triumphs of the project and left an indelible mark on Founders’ Day history.

The P.E.O. Founders were remarkable women. The ladies of Chapter CD are quite the same.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Indian Ribbon Dresses for the Powwow

During my “off season” of opera sewing (summer), I work on paid commissions, which range from basic necessities to uncharacteristic requests. In the summer of 2021, I was approached by my dear friend, Faith, and her mother to make three Indian ribbon dresses for Faith’s daughters, Hope and Ruby, and their cousin, Grace. The Native American heritage is an important aspect of Faith’s family and I was happy to do it ─ starting next summer. My schedule was booked for the season and my soonest available start time would be June 2022. Keeping that promise, I set my course for uncharted territory once Lucia wrapped in late May.

Indian Ribbon Dresses

When trying to envision how the dresses would look, I didn’t have a clue and I certainly didn’t want to go against the norms of cultural standards. I quizzed Faith extensively. Throughout the process, she was cooperative and sent me many pictures of what the dresses were supposed to look like. Since the design details were the choice of the family, Faith asked for the bodices to be stretchy (shirred) so that the girls could grow into them.

The shirred dress Faith sent me as an example

Looking for shirred bodice patterns online led me to Sew Jahit’s free tutorial with shirred straps.

Sew Jahit’s Shirred Bodice

Confession: I had never shirred a piece of fabric in my life !! With gulps of trepidation, I determined it would be best to send mock-ups so proper sizing could be assessed and to also give shirring a trial run. Haplessly, I ran out of muslin during the cutting process so scrap fabrics had to be substituted. Here’s Hope’s mock-up with sleeve variations…

And here’s Hope wearing it…

Grace and Ruby’s mock-ups followed the same procedure…

The pictures of the girls in their mock-ups sent me into risible fits: they looked like ragamuffins begging for alms in the street with their motley ensembles ! Despite the shabby appearance of the stand-in dresses, the mock-ups accomplished their purpose as I was able to fine tune the pattern measurements for the girls. Onto the real dresses !

I chose to use cotton batik fabric as the base for the dresses. With slight color variations and subtle patterns, it allowed for a more “textured” look and promised an added dimension to the largely plain areas of the dresses. Faith and her sister, Angel, had made a list of the colors of ribbons they preferred and together we worked to come up with the best and most culturally relevant schemes.

Working on the color schemes for the dresses

Sewing for a long distance client has a way of setting me on tenterhooks since I have no way of fitting and measuring in person. After much back-and-forth of sending pictures on Facebook Messenger, the dresses were completed and now it was time to ship them off to Idaho… Would they fit ?

I think that’s a “yes !”

The dresses were a perfect fit and the girls were able to go to the powwow in style.

Designing dresses for these girls was such a joy as they are tûtawi’u’ (that’s Pawnee for “full of life”). And they’re just adorable. Don’t you agree ?

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Remembering Mina

Genealogy is a pastime that many people pursue with a gambler’s passion. Addictive, the sport can lead posterity into an endless funnel of personal discoveries and historical finds. But I’ve never been one those people… until recently. When my grandmother died in 2020, the castoffs of old family photos found their way inadvertently into my hands and an insatiable curiosity soon followed. “Who were these people ?” I wondered. Several ancestors sparked interest for an immediate research project, but at the top of the list was my great-grandmother, Erma.
In celebrating her birthday month, I thought it would be fun to share the accomplishments and anecdotes of a woman who loved life and everything in it.

Erma Reynolds

Born in Newark, NJ, Erma Eleanor Schoop shared her August 15th birthday with a very famous emperor. Perhaps you’ve heard of him ?

Napoleon Bonaparte

She was the daughter of a Methodist minister and moved frequently as a child, wherever her father was assigned a parsonage. Spending family vacations at Chautauqua Lake, NY, was a favorite memory of Erma’s. So much so, that she often traveled back to the resort community throughout her life, usually bringing her friends in tow.

Chautauqua Lake, NY

Having settled in Columbus, OH, during her senior year of high school, Erma went on to enroll at Ohio State University at a time when most women did not go to college.

During her years at college, Erma visited her brother and his wife in Florida and attended a dance at a hotel. It was there that she met a citrus grower named Bob Reynolds. Romance ensued and they knew they wanted to be married. So Bob travelled to Ohio to talk things over with Erma’s father. Although agreeing to the union, her father had one caveat: “She has to graduate from Ohio State first !”

She indeed graduated and the couple married on July 18, 1928. Miraculously, her wedding gown remains in the family. Although it has yellowed from decades bygone, the flapper style dress is still in fairly good shape despite a few tears in the lace overlay. My cousin, Allison, modeled the dress recently during a photoshoot at Bok Tower Gardens.

My cousin, Allison, modeling Erma’s wedding dress.

Of all the questions that darted around in my mind, the most pressing query I had as I began my research on Erma surrounded her involvement in the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

Ever since I was a child, I would hear stories about how Erma served as the Florida state president from 1958-59 and was very active in her home chapter, U. My search produced fruitful results. In reading through one of Erma’s many diaries, I discovered that she was initiated into Chapter U on May 3, 1938 ─ just a few years after the chapter had been formed. Almost all of her life she was an active member, even attending the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1952.

Erma (far right) with her fellow friends and P.E.O. sisters at the train station, traveling to the International Convention in 1952
From left to right: Mary Hamilton, Eunice Hurst, and Esther Wise

It was strongly because of Erma’s involvement in P.E.O. that I, myself, wished to join the Sisterhood and serve as my chapter’s president. Knowing that I have nearly fulfilled the second portion of that dream would surely make her proud.

Faith was a cornerstone of Erma’s life. She was a longtime member of Beymer Methodist Church, which served as the site of her daughter, Eleanor’s, wedding in 1956. Just look at those clothes !

Eleanor, Bob, and Erma

Erma was a world traveler. And more extraordinarily, she was a world traveler when jetting off to far-flung destinations was not nearly as accessible as it is today. Sojourning with close friends and family, she made several trips across the United States and also visited exotic locales including Norway and Scandinavia, most of the European Continent and Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil and South America, the Caribbean, and Canada. Her thoughtfulness was personified by the many presents she brought back to her loved ones.

Writing was also one of Erma’s passions, and in 1976 she saw her book “The Fabulous Orange” published. As a history of citrus cultivation, processing, and marketing, it is truly… “fabulous !”

While she was known as a beloved mother and a good friend to her friends, there was something else that Erma loved in addition to her friends and family that cannot be overlooked. She loved jewelry; all kinds, the real and the costume. Anything that sparkled tickled Erma’s fancy.

She may have adored jewels, but she never dressed in excess. Her style was quiet and tastefully done with just the right amount of accessories. Recently, I made a visit to the cemetery where Mina (the name all of the grandchildren called Erma) was laid to rest, modeling a dress from my mother’s closet that closely resembles the style my great-grandmother would have worn.

Despite all her remarkable accomplishments, Erma is probably best remembered by her kind and easy-natured spirit. She had an infectious laugh, loved a good joke, and was hospitable to a fault. Sadly, she passed away from an extended battle with Alzheimer’s before I ever knew her. However, through the stories and artifacts shared from various relatives, her memory remains alive. My hope is to perpetuate her legacy by the same tenets that guided her life. And just like Mina, having fun along the way is equally as important !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Fringed Friends in Pamela’s Patterns

Scrolling through my daily e-mail from Fabric Mart Fabrics, I spotted something that grabbed my attention in addition to the day’s latest sales. A new class offering had been posted for Fringy Bias Skirts with Pamela Leggett using her favorite bias skirt pattern. So chic, so bohemian, so… unique ! I knew I had to sign up for the virtual class.

As per Pamela’s suggestion, the skirt was best suited for a softer linen fabric so that the strips of linen bias would “bloom” when washed. However, I had a resolution to use up some of my unfathomable fabric stash and unearthed a fawn colored linen, which I bought from a “Julie’s Picks” swatch mailer some years prior. It was crisp ─ not ideal ─ but it would have to work. And since my yardage was inadequate for the full length skirt, I was rendered one solution: to make the knee length version.

Soon before the first class session, my friend, Chris, had sent me an e-mail with an outrageously priced Nieman Marcus skirt that was fashionable, but beyond the point of reason to even consider making a purchase. “Who would pay that for a skirt ?!” she wailed. At that moment, I showed her the class example that I was going to make and she was hooked. Intuitively, Chris selected a soft linen/rayon blend in a bright navy for her midi length skirt. Her choice of fabric was perfect; after two washes, the blended material far “outfringed” mine that had been washed and dried close to 10 times. Mawhh-velous !

Custom fitted in our fringy bias skirts, we had fun during a photo shoot at Chris’s elegant home.

Interestingly, Pamela revealed during the first session of class that she got the idea for the fringed skirt from an old Soft Surroundings catalog and wanted to make a knock-off version for herself. I laughed as I had done the same procedure when I attempted to recreate a Soft Surroundings gown for one of the Met concerts.

The Fringy Bias Skirts episode was a win-win-win: Chris didn’t have to cancel her Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra subscription to pay for the skirt, I gained a new client, and we both ended up with two stylish and flattering skirts ! Thank you, Pamela !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Lucia di Lammermoor: A “Mad” Bridal Tradition

Manners, manipulation, mysticism, and morbidity permeate Sir Walter Scott’s gothic novel of thwarted romance like a damp fog over the rugged Scottish Highlands. After an article recently published for suggested opera reading, I dove into a delightful immersive study of reading opera’s literary forerunners. “The Bride of Lammermoor” was near the top of my list since its theatric counterpart was due up for the Met’s 2021-2022 Live in HD season.

I loved the novel. Even with its gloomy pallor, I found myself pleasurably enveloped in the formality and class distinctions of the early 18th century Scottish setting. But how would the opera, slightly amended in its story and characters, fare against the benchmark book ─ especially with a radical, modern day-set production ?

Nadine Sierra in a promotional photo for Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera

Uncharacteristically for me, I was rather indifferent towards Simon Stone’s half opera/half movie production. Many parts of the story felt plausible in the present day Rust Belt setting while other stunts left me nonplussed. While both the action of the opera on stage and the cinematic video screen projection above were cleverly produced, I felt they would have been more effective as separate entities rather than interpolated within the same space (sensory overload !). Unquestionably, the singing was explosive ─ bel canto has a penchant for fireworks !

A scene from Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera

The outfit for Lucia was obvious: the famed “bloody” wedding gown from the Act III mad scene is so ubiquitously tied to the opera (regardless of the decade or production) that it’s almost clichéd.

Splattering scarlet paint over a delicate display of satin and lace wouldn’t allow me many opportunities for wearing the designated dress again, although the thought was tempting… especially since the gown worn in the new Met production looked uncannily similar to my mother’s actual wedding gown from 1987.

Fear not; I wouldn’t do that to my mother’s dress (or anyone else’s, for that matter). With a modern production and no prior hint to its styling, I decided I would take a more interpretative approach to the blood-stained garment while still keeping an oft-chanted bridal tradition.

Something Old

Gloves were originally not going to be part of my outfit, but yet as I studied the John Everett Millais painting, I realized it was fitting.

“The Bride of Lammermoor” by John Everett Millais (1878)

These gloves were given to me by a friend and neighbor, who used to wear them out and about in Wisconsin, as was the proper thing to do at the time. Thank you, Miss Johanna !

Something New

Because there was no possibility of saturating a real wedding gown in blood (or the likes thereof), I wanted to have something that was evocative of blood without actually looking like it. I’ve had my eye on a Vogue pattern for sophisticated bolero jackets for several years and knew I would use it to my bloody advantage. Initially aiming to sew the ¾ sleeve version with the pleated ruffles, I altered my plans when I came across an irresistible fabric deal: corded nylon lace with sequins ─ $2.99/yard. I bought five yards.
Changing styles was seamless since the bell flounce sleeves of View D reminded me of the 18th century, which directly mirrored the time in which the original story was set. (Note: I had my mother style my hair based off the images on the pattern envelope… so haute, so mad !!)

The way that the pattern was drafted, I needed to alter the length of the sleeves in order to have the flounce sit higher on my arm and not look so much like a 1970’s disco queen. Eight inches were subsequently removed from the sleeves, which gave me that 1700’s feel.

Something Borrowed

The dress I wore is very special because it played a starring role in someone else’s life. Charmingly, the white satin A-line gown employed to represent Lucia’s wedding gown was not intended for a bartered bride, but rather… a debutante !

My friend, Borden, wore this same gown in the early 2000’s when she made her debut. And after many years, it still looks great. Thank you, Borden !

Something Blue

And what would the bridal tradition be without Something Blue ?! Well, there was no question as to what that would be…

Bought for $16.99 at a resale store (thank you, Miss Michelle !), my royal blue and rhinestone studded stilettos steal the show wherever they make an appearance ─ from the “Pavarotti” documentary to Anna Netrebko’s Viennese concert. ‘Fabulous’ doesn’t even begin to describe their glamor.

My last opera of the 2021-2022 Live in HD season hit all the right notes. Indeed, it was a bloody mad time !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Lucia di Lammermoor ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1835)
Live in HD air date: May 21, 2022

Cast:
Lucia ─ Nadine Sierra
Edgardo ─ Javier Camarena
Enrico ─ Artur Ruciński
Raimondo ─ Christian Van Horn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Ricardo Frizza
Production ─ Simon Stone
Set Designer ─ Lizzie Clachan
Costume Designers ─ Alice Babidge and Blanca Añón
Lighting Designer ─ James Farncombe
Projection Designer ─ Luke Halls
Choreographer ─ Sara Erde
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Anthony Roth Costanzo

Turandot ─ My Favorite Opera

How much do I love Puccini’s final opera, Turandot ?

Well…

I own two complete recordings, which I listen to very often…

…have a poster in my room…

…and it has been rumored to be true that I’ve flown out of my bedroom like a bat when the sound of someone singing “Nessun dorma” on a television in an adjacent room wafted its way to my ear during the early part of slumber.

Yes, I love Turandot ─ the music, the armrest-gripping drama, the fiery passion all wrapped up in a splendid love story for the ages. It never gets old… neither do the chills and goosebumps I inevitably feel whenever listening to the opera. While these factors are not conducive to healing from adrenal fatigue, the liability never stops me from attending a performance, regardless of the cast.

Liudmyla Monastyrska (center) and Yonghoon Lee (left) in a scene from Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

Oddly, Turandot is one of the few operas that is not entirely dependent on the merits of the four principal leads (at least to me, anyway !). Rather, having an exceptionally vibrant chorus and a taut and affecting conductor on the stand makes the real difference. With that in mind, the orchestra and chorus shone as the brightest stars during this run of Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent production. But a mention should be made of the principal singers… instruction in Acting 101 would have been advisable for most of them. The icy princess was truly frozen and the blind man was discovered to be only intermittently blind as he readily anticipated his steps and conversations before they had begun. Oops !
Despite some hiccups, they were mostly rendered moot: the opera is always a winner !

An excerpt from the finale from Turandot (2009) / Metropolitan Opera

Zeffirelli’s Turandot production is a landmark. It’s so powerful in its impact on audiences that it’s been in existence at the Met for over 30 years. Why mess with perfection ?! This was the attitude I adopted as I contemplated what I would wear for Turandot 2022.
When I created my costume for Turandot 2019, I didn’t think I could top it. It’s glitzy, dramatic, and oh so Chinese. I didn’t see a reason why it shouldn’t be worn again. So that’s just what I did.

One element I tweaked for this particular Turandot was opting to wear my long black wig, which I donned for Madama Butterfly in 2019. With it, I felt even more like ‘la Principessa altera.’

Of course, my cardboard and wooden skewer headpiece had to make another appearance. It has taken a lot of wear and tear from the time since I first created the accessory in late 2015/early 2016, but there’s nothing a dab of Krazy Glue won’t fix !

This may have been my third trip to the theater to see Puccini’s posthumous piece, but I highly doubt I will ever become jaded by the opera. Festive excitement builds as the 100th anniversary of its premiere approaches in 2026. And I already have plans for a poster-inspired outfit to celebrate !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Turandot ─ Giacomo Puccini (1926)
Live in HD air date: May 7, 2022

Cast:
Turandot ─ Liudmyla Monastyrska
Calàf ─ Yonghoon Lee
Liù ─ Ermonela Jaho
Timur ─ Ferruccio Furlanetto

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marco Armiliato
Production ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designers ─ Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Choreographer ─ Chiang Ching
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra