Designing a Diva: Dress Inspired by Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko is a bona fide diva. She has the pipes to blast the roof off a building, the meticulous technique and luster a good singer could only wish to achieve, and the histrionic ability that could put any Hollywood A-lister to shame. She’s also very beautiful. Aside talent and looks, one of the greatest semblances of a diva is a wardrobe of couture designer gowns and shoes. And Anna Netrebko is no exception !

As the concert for Anna Netrebko neared last summer, my mind was set on creating a true “diva” gown─ something that was as stunning as Anna herself. But where to begin ? Firstly, I browsed online and then on Anna Netrebko’s Instagram account in search of clues. Although she has worn many different styles of dresses, I noticed a reoccurrence of strapless gowns in bold colors and patterns.

Even for her wedding to Yusif Eyvazov in December 2015 Anna chose to wear a strapless gown…

Strapless it is. Now for the colors…

Interestingly, a post on Anna’s Instagram account pointed to the reasoning behind her selection of bright colors for concert and gala gowns: she rarely wears black on stage since it blends in with the orchestra’s attire and the audience wouldn’t be able to see her from afar. Brilliant ! As for me, I had a different motive for choosing colors. I wanted to use up a portion of my fabric “stash” and recalled the bright fuchsia satin I used for my Dalila gown in 2018. The remnants of the hot pink satin totaled to less than 2 yards. A sheath style with high thigh slit seemed inevitable. But what else ? Reaching for other fabrics in my stash, I tested different color combinations until I hit the mark: fuchsia and royal blue ! Since the duo made a mesmerizing pair, the idea of a dramatic lace overlay tickled my fancy. Grab your sunglasses before you read any further !

I purchased 2 yards of both lace and stretch charmeuse satin for the lining (yes, I wanted to use up my stash and not add to it, but sometimes it’s not always possible) and cut my patterns for the strapless sheath with not an inch to spare !

Constructing the lining was straightforward: I interfaced the pieces, sewed on Rigilene boning, added interior lacing panels for the corset, and padded the bust. Time for a fitting !

Enormous, just right, skin tight ─ the dress was a mess ! After all, what’s dressmaking without some mishaps along the way ? Alterations were made and the slit jettisoned: a new silhouette had to created to compensate for the unwalkable bottom half of the dress. A triangular gore was inserted into the back of the dress, but for the lining only ! The idea of a chiffon train floated in my mind…

After tweaking the bodice, it was time for the lace application. I pinned the zipperless gown on my dress form and began the process of manipulating the lace, especially in the bust dart area.

Sew far, sew good ! No, really ─ there was A LOT of sewing with this dress because of the lace. I spent days securing the majority of the motifs onto the pink satin, first “stitched in the ditch” along the princess seams and then elsewhere. Thankfully, I had a great slanted zigzag stitch to use on my Baby Lock machine.
With the upper portion of the dress complete, I repeated the lace application on the lower half of the gown ─ more sewing…!

The wrong side of the face after sewing on the lace

A week later, I sewed on a ruched sash with the help of this tutorial: https://mamamadeit.blogspot.com/2011/03/ruched-satin-taffeta-sash.html Thank you, Mama !
The gathered ends were capped with a folded strip of satin and hooks and eyes were sewn on the underside.

During the last stages of sewing and fitting, I realized the train was unrealistic. For one, I couldn’t squeeze myself into the dress during the final fitting and had to rework the back gore, slashing it into two. Fortunately, I was able to scrounge up enough fuchsia satin in the scrap bag to cut two identical gores. Once they were sewn onto the dress, the fit was better. However, the light and sheer chiffon just didn’t seem like a cohesive match when placed next to the adjacent sturdy and thick guipure lace; elegance is best personified in simplicity.

Despite the rescheduled concert date (February instead of October) the dress was perfectly suited for the mild weather and everything I had hoped for it to be, especially when accessorized with an abundance of pink organza. It was a diva’s dream !

I knew white rhinestones would be my accent color and the shoes were one of my main inspirations. They were last worn to the Pavarotti documentary in 2019. Bling, bling !

The lace was so pretty with its edges peeking above the neckline of the dress. Now, if I only had a big, sparkly diamond necklace to show off…

…like Anna !

Anna Netrebko is a muse for generations to come. And while I cannot compare myself to the caliber of a world-class soprano, my couture concert dress certainly gave me a taste of the fame and fashion of a true diva.

Toi, Toi, Toi,
Mary Martha

Diva du Jour ─ Anna Netrebko Live in Concert

“Diva assoluta del mondo.” “Prima donna.” “Showstopper.” Regardless of how you choose to phrase your expressions, the fact of the matter remains constant: Anna Netrebko is the World’s Reigning Diva. She is also my favorite singer. And so, when the time came for Anna Netrebko to be featured in the Met Stars Live in Concert series, there was no question that I would be watching.

Cleverly, the program was divided into Day and Night art songs ─ the first portion floated with some of Anna’s Russian repertoire calling cards while the latter half was devoted to darkness. While most of the selections were enjoyable (most ─ Debussy’s “Il pleur dans mon cœur” sparked the need for an antidepressant), I couldn’t help but wish for an injection of opera somewhere into the set list. Art songs can only be sustained for so long, even with Pavel Nebolsin’s nuanced piano playing…
What was delightful, however, was the addition of mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova to complete two duets. The girls were a pretty sight together and their Venetian masks worn in part for Offenbach’s Bacarolle painted a portrait of pure whimsy.

Anna Netrebko and Elena Maximova singing “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amore”

The Cuisine

The Spanish Riding School offered an extraordinary venue for a concert. And its host city, Vienna, became the inspiration for the food. Anne’s cheese platter contained a mix of Muenster, Manchego, and Danish Blue. Something German, something Spanish, and something as blue as the Danube. Brava, Anne !

Chris’s canapes were a work of art ! Open faced sandwiches never looked better…

And what would an opera concert be without some bubbly imbibement ? From the bordering hills of Italy, I supplied a bottle of Prosecco.

But Vienna is probably best known for its renowned dessert: Sachertorte ! Who would of thought that a simple chocolate cake could be heightened to extraordinary levels by a smearing of tangy apricot jam and a bathing of velvety ganache ? Okay, that’s not too much of a profound pondering. We all had seconds !

Sachertorte

The Clothes

While the storied city of Vienna may have supplied the inspiration for the food, it was Anna Netrebko herself who became the muse for my outfit. As a bona fide diva, Anna Netrebko wears gowns worth dying for. My research began by browsing online images of Anna’s past concert and gala gowns. The results led me to two conclusions: Anna Netrebko loves bright colors and bold styles. Other noticeable features were the repetitions of strapless gowns with coordinating waistband sashes. Using these as my standards, I set out to create a “Diva” dress, glam and all.

Bright colors ? Check ! Bold style ? You be the judge…!

My “Diva” gown, accentuated by an abundant organza stole, made me feel like I had stepped onto a Hollywood red carpet ! More appropriately, it fit the mold of my all-time favorite diva, Anna Netrebko ─ “la diva assoluta del mondo.”

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha


Surely, you must want to know more about my jaw-dropping dress, right ? Details of its conception and completion can be found here: http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2021/03/09/designing-a-diva-dress-inspired-by-anna-netrebko/

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Anna Netrebko
Spanish Riding School
Vienna, Austria
Live broadcast date: February 6, 2021
(Date seen: February 18, 2021)

Anna Netrebko ─ soprano
Elena Maximova ─ mezzo-soprano
Pavel Nebolsin ─ piano

Bavarian Apple Torte

Shoved deep in my mother’s old decoupage recipe box is a brown splattered index card with instructions written on front and back. In the time leading up to fancy dinner parties or special occasions, the card was always sought with expediency. That prized recipe was for Bavarian Apple Torte and originally came from my great grandmother, who was of direct German descent.

My great-grandmother, Claire

When the occasion arose for Jonas Kaufmann’s concert in Bavaria, there was no better choice than the regionally appropriate dessert for our small watch party. And now I’m sharing the favorite recipe below in case you need a simply elegant dessert to impress your guests or have an insatiable hankering to visit Bavaria.

Ingredients

Crust:
½ C butter
¼ tsp. vanilla
1/3 C sugar
1 C flour

Filling:
1- 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
¼ C sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla

Topping:
1/3 C sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon (or more — ¾ – 1 tsp.)
4 C peeled apple slices (any kind)
¼ C sliced almonds

Instructions

Cream butter, vanilla, and 1/3 cup of sugar. Blend in flour. Spread dough onto bottom and sides of springform pan.
(*For easier cleanup, I place a sheet of parchment paper over the bottom of the springform pan and secure it with the metal ring that goes on top. This helps the torte slide off the pan if you do not want the metal bottom of the pan going to an event or if you are giving the torte as a gift.)

Parchment paper covering the pan

Combine softened cream cheese and ¼ cup of sugar; mix well. Add egg and ½ tsp vanilla. Mix and pour into pastry lined pan.

The crust and the filling

Combine 1/3 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Toss apple slices in sugar and cinnamon mixture. Spoon apple mixture over cream cheese layer. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake 10 minutes at 450°F. Reduce heat to 400°F. Continue baking for 25 minutes. Note: Cover with foil if needed so almonds don’t burn too much, about 10-15 minutes before done.
Cool. Remove rim of pan and slide onto serving plate, leaving bottom of springform underneath torte.
Top with whipped cream, whipped with a little sugar.

Enjoy !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Welsh Winter: Bryn Terfel Live in Concert

Listening to Bryn Terfel is like stepping into a vast, storied library: you’re not entirely sure what you will discover, but you undoubtedly know it will be a rich experience full of wonder and abundant surprises. In an ode to the Christmas season, my friends and I gathered to watch Bryn and an assembly of varied musicians perform a concert entirely composed of Christmas carols from the Brecon Cathedral in Wales.

Natalya Romaniw, Bryn Terfel, and Trystan Llŷr Griffiths performing at Brecon Cathedral in Wales / Metropolitan Opera

Traditional and contemporary alike, the carols were sung with joy and charisma. Bryn’s infectious charm and playful personality twinkled like the stars in the night sky while his generosity was clearly evident: invited to perform with Bryn were two young Welsh singers along with the eclectic folk group, Calan. Joined by the talents of pianist Jeffery Howard and harpist (and Bryn’s wife) Hannah Stone, the gang delivered a program full of spirit and hope; my favorites included the multilingual “Still, Still, Still”, Ivor Novello’s “I Can Give You Starlight”, and the harmonious “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to close the concert.

Bryn Terfel performing “I Can Give You Starlight” / Metropolitan Opera

The Cuisine

Our food was partly a throwback to previous concert gatherings─ with an assortment of cheese and charcuterie, I almost felt like I was back at the Jonas Kaufmann concert in July…

Anne’s exquisite cheese platter

…and Jayne’s sparkling rosé was also poured during our French Riviera fête in August…

But the Welsh addition came in the form of Chris’s Pwdin Eva, a kind of apple cobbler…

The food was tastefully presented and shared by musically minded friends. Cheers !

The Clothes

When I think of Wales, my mind is drawn to craggy coasts and rugged landscapes dotted with sheep and sturdy kinfolk, both equipped to survive the battered climates of Great Britain. Although the skies are often painted a dreary gray, the bright red dragon atop the green and white striped national flag belies any sort of unpleasant regional weather.

Flag of Wales

This dragon, known as the “Draig Goch” in Wales, was the inspiration for my outfit. Who would have thought that a web search inquiry for Welsh fabric companies would lead me to some of the cheeriest fabric I’ve ever sewn ? When I landed on the page for a stamped organic cotton, I knew I had found my fabric. But what to make ?

With the winter weather in Florida being much milder than the northern latitudes of wet Wales, I erred on the side of conservative warmth and practicality. A pleated skirt paired with dark leather boots seemed like the perfect storm…
Carbon Chic’s tutorial was a helpful starting point for my knife pleated skirt, but I couldn’t make the numbers work. So, I freehandedly began pleating away in 2 inch increments, starting at the right side seam (with pocket) and moving left towards the second side seam. A zipper and button closure were installed at the back.

Paired with my mother’s classic red turtleneck and riding boots, I was pleased with my “up country” look.

(Psst ! Remember when these same boots marched off to La Fille du Régiment ?)

In a way, I felt my clothes emulated a schoolgirl, arms saddled with books, on her way to the library. And that library, wondrous and enchanting, was an afternoon in Wales with Bryn Terfel.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Bryn Terfel and Friends
Brecon Cathedral
Brecon, Wales
Live broadcast date: December 12, 2020
(Date seen: December 19, 2020)

Bryn Terfel ─ bass-baritone
Natalya Romaniw ─ soprano
Trystan Llŷr Griffiths ─ tenor
Jeffery Howard ─ piano
Hannah Stone ─ harp
Calan

Baby Clothes for Hope

I have a friend. She is very dear to me… Her name is Faith ! In 2010, we met on Twitter and hit it off almost instantly, whereupon we soon became pen pals. In a way, I have lived life’s major milestones through Faith: I’ve watched her marry the love of her life and then have a daughter of her own. When Faith announced she was pregnant, I knew I wanted to make some very special things for her precious daughter, Hope.

Hope’s birth announcement photo

Her name is very sentimental. Faith and her husband Tyler had hoped for a baby for a long while. And they also hoped for a girl. See the connection ? No name could be better suited to someone who had so much hope behind her !

One of the patterns that my friend, Gisele, had offered me from her yard sale stash was a children’s pattern from the early 90’s. I thought it was darling and knew it would be adorable for Hope.

Simplicity 9685

As I browsed the scant fabric aisles at Walmart, I fingered over the perfect fabric for the dress: peacock print ! Faith and her family have had peacocks as pets and have an affinity for them. What could be better ? In addition to Hope’s tie back dress, I decided to make a matching one for her cousin, Grace, born two months earlier.

And here are the two baby cousins wearing their matching dresses on Mother’s Day:

Faith, her sister, Angel, with their mother, Angela, and Hope and Grace

Didn’t I tell you they love peacocks ? Look at all the feathers !

But I wasn’t done ! In addition to the matching dresses, I also sewed the romper from the same pattern envelope in pink gingham with a scalloped border of lace… sweet, very sweet !

Rompers (and onesies) are the hallmark of comfort. Hope modeled the style when she visited Grandpa Joe over the summer…

I also wanted Hope to have a fancy outfit so I sewed her a pink dress in crepe back satin and organza leftover from my Manon ballgown. In a craft bin at Walmart, I found a matching flower clip, which could be removed to wash the dress. Baby clothes, regardless of how fancy or frivolous, need to be washable. Very washable.

The pattern in size “0-3 months” was free from the Melly Sews blog. https://mellysews.com/sew-a-baby-dress-with-free-pattern/ Thank you, Melissa ! Hope looked like an uptown girl in her coordinating floral dress…

Hope and Grace ─ the two cousins

I couldn’t resist the urge to sew some girly-girl ruffles so I made a diaper cover with layers of pink patterned flounces on the back. Using my Baby Lock serger to both finish and gather the ruffles made the process a bundle of fun. Out of everything I sewed for Hope, this one was my favorite !

And off she goes !

The last item I created for Hope was a pair of knitted booties. As a mainstay of baby showers, I felt this was a genuine way to celebrate Hope’s arrival. And while I was not able to attend the actual baby shower in Idaho, my handmade clothes and booties were unwrapped with greatest appreciation and delight. From Florida, with love…

Having a niece has been a delight ! Faith and I have already been discussing different dress ideas for when Hope grows up. Of these, the most anticipated design is a Cinderella gown─ a character and story that is as cherished to Faith as our friendship is to the both of us.

Very cherished, indeed.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Eugene Onegin

Prior to the latter months of 2015, a Russian opera wouldn’t have turned my head. Ha ! How uniquely situations can change… As an autodidact of the Russian language, I was so excited to see Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and even more enthused to witness another performance by Anna Netrebko, half of the reason I began learning Russian in the first place.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

This was to be a reunion of sorts ─ three of the singers whom I first saw in Il Trovatore in 2015 (Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Štefan Kocán) were scheduled for Onegin, but sadly, circumstances beyond the control of human capacity altered these best forged plans. With Dmitri Hvorostovsky bowing out due to advancing brain cancer, Peter Mattei stepped into the shoes of the snobbish title cad.

Štefan Kocán as Prince Gremin and Peter Mattei as Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

Strangely, the entire cast was Slavic except the Swedish Mattei, who felt so much like an outsider because of it ! I don’t know if it was his non-native tongue, his towering stature, or his graying goatee, but there was an obvious distinction between him and his fellow cast members. Even in spite of the casting swap, I delighted in listening to the Russian words in hopes of recognizing a few. Surprisingly, I was able to distinguish brief passages of verses, which thrilled my scholarly applications. My broad smile was impenetrable.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and Peter Mattei as Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

For an operation that was almost purely Russian, an equally felicitous outfit was required. I knew I was going to wear my long black velvet dress, but what else ? A sleek, matching velvet stole factored into my plans of a stereotypical Russian oligarch look of winter temperaments. But the stole was dismissed in favor of the serendipity thrown my way: “I’ve got this long black velvet coat that I saw at the thrift shop ─ do you want it ?” my friend, Paula, asked me a few weeks before the date of the opera. Without a word, I nodded my head up and down in a manner that was akin to vigorously shaking a can of spray paint. Да, пожалуйста !

The long duster was a thrill beyond belief ─ each time I stepped forth, a trailing breeze would catch in the sails of the velvet. I felt like one of those guys in “The Matrix” !

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”

With my outfit set, all that was needed was a trademark fur hat. Often called an ushanka, I needed a more basic pillbox version of the traditional Russian winter headwear. To start, I crocheted a base hat out of black yarn and then bought 6 inches worth of faux fur at Jo-Ann Fabrics. After covering the sides and top of the hat, I still had a fraction of the fur left over. The total cost ? Around $1. Now that’s what I call a deal !

Большое спасибо, Paula !

Fur cuffed gloves and a stylish clutch completed my black-on-black ensemble that was purely по-русски.

Eugene Onegin was well worth the wait for the satisfaction of applying my new language skills. Maybe the next time I have the chance to see it, I’ll recognize even more of Pushkin’s verses while simultaneously being swept away in Tchaikovsky’s melodic score. Time to return to my studies…

До свидания !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Eugene Onegin ─ Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1879)
Live in HD air date: April 22, 2017

Cast:
Tatiana ─ Anna Netrebko
Eugene Onegin ─ Peter Mattei
Olga ─ Elena Maximova
Lensky ─ Alexey Dolgov
Prince Gremin ─ Štefan Kocán

Credits:
Conductor ─ Robin Ticciati
Production ─ Deborah Warner
Set Designer ─ Tom Pye
Costume Designer ─ Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer ─ Jean Kalman
Video Designers ─ Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross
Choreographer ─ Kim Brandstrup
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

Patrick Muehleise in Concert

“A Night of the Romantics !” the program read, as I took my seat on an unusually frigid November evening at a concert for Patrick Muehleise, a tenor in town. I must say, it’s not often the opera (in whatever form) comes so close to home, but when it does, I like to pounce on the opportunity much like a frisky kitten on a slowly pulled string.

Based on the leadup flyers and promotional materials I received in the mail, I was expecting the concert to heavily feature opera arias. I was rather mistaken. Although my thirst for opera was whetted only by an enchanting “En ferment les yeux” from Manon (recalling how the aria was sung with dearest tenderness by Michael Fabiano the month before), the program had its poking luminescence ─ a musically-set “Sea Fever” brought back recollections of when I had memorized John Masefield’s poem in my schooling years while Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House” displayed a rhythmic vigor and introduced me to a new-type genre.

Patrick’s diction was crisp and readable; it’s as if every word was distinguishable, even the foreign language passages. His voice, on the other hand, was more “pointed” than desired for solo pieces ─ many of my musically-inclined friends commented that he was better suited for choral work in a group setting. But I had an alternative judgement of where Mr. Mule-EYES-uh (this was how he instructed us to pronounce his surname) would best thrive: the characterizations of Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs” was played to the hilt of hilarity that I could easily picture Patrick taking his talents to Broadway. I told him so much during the meet and greet afterwards where I was rebuffed by a flashing smile and a boisterous laugh of incredibility. So much for my thought !

Thinking of how I would dress, I wished to be elegant as well as in line with the atmosphere of the event. One of my standby favorites, the black velvet sheath dress with chiffon cowl collar and pleated back train, was perfect. But with the chilly temperatures (and evening status), I needed something equally stunning to use for warmth and cover. I recalled my consignment capelet in coincidentally matching black velvet and slung it over my shoulders. My mother styled my hair in a hurry and I was off to the Arts Center for a night of the romantics !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

“A Night of the Romantics!”
Date: November 16, 2019
Lake Wales Arts Center

Patrick Muehleise ─ tenor
Dr. Jonathan Reed ─ piano

Sirupsnipper Cookies ─ No White Flour, No White Sugar

I haven’t consumed white flour or white sugar since 2009 when a medical condition forced me to change my lifestyle. And while there have been moments of deprivation and longing for conventional flour and sugar-laden treats, my sweet tooth has been mostly satiated since my refined baked goods breakup. Over the years, I have fiddled with adapting regular recipes of breads and sweets with questionable results. However, this cookie was a winner !

I have included a “no white flour/no white sugar” version of the original Sirupsnipper recipe from Sons of Norway The recipe is as follows:

Ingredients

9 Tbsp. cream
½ cup + 2½ Tbsp. maple syrup
½ cup + 2½ Tbsp. coconut sugar
7 Tbsp. butter
3¾ cups rye flour
1½ tsp. pepper*
1½ tsp. ginger*
½ tsp. anise*
1½ tsp. cinnamon*
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
blanched almonds for decorating

*Note: I came to these measurements based on trial and taste. They are on the spicy side this way, but the spices can certainly be adjusted down if they are too “hot” for the palate. Also, I ground half of a pod of star anise instead of using jarred spice. The freshly ground half pod came to a scant ½ tsp.

Instructions

1. Boil cream, maple syrup, and coconut sugar together. Stir in butter and let mixture cool until lukewarm.

2. Combine flour and dry ingredients and whisk together.

3. Sift in dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill overnight.

4. Roll dough out as thin as possible and cut diagonal lines to make diamond shapes (or use cookie cutters in various shapes).

5. Place cookies on greased baking sheet or parchment paper covered baking sheet. These cookies barely spread so you’re safe to crowd them rather tightly on the pan.

6. Place a blanched almond in the middle of each cookie.
7. Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes (or until crispy).

*An optional egg wash may be used if you desire a shiny appearance. This, I omitted.

These Christmas cookies were a delicious treat for our Norwegian food spread fêting Lise Davidsen’s Met concert from Oscarshall Palace in Norway. Isn’t the forest of trees a lovely sight next to spiky coconut macaroons ?

Because of the exceptional outcome of this recipe adaptation, I plan to bake these for years to come. File this one under ‘Success’ in the No White Flour/No White Sugar recipe box !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Rusalka

Dvořák’s opera of a water nymph who desires to be human should be familiar territory to anyone who has read or seen “The Little Mermaid” in any of its contexts. Whether it be the Hans Christian Andersen tale or Disney’s beloved movie, “The Little Mermaid” has had an endearing effect on the public. As someone who grew up watching the Disney film and reading Andersen, Rusalka was a must-see for me during the 2016-2017 Live in HD season. It was now time for the Czech composer to shine in the thalassic classic.

This was a new production for the Met and Mary Zimmerman’s designs were brought to life with forest fauna and frothing watering holes…

The forest sprites in Rusalka / Metropolitan Opera

This was fitting, but the glaring garishness of the palace where the prince lived was (intentionally) off-putting. Even Rusalka was ready to hightail it back to her pond !

Kristine Opolais (center) in a scene from Act II of Rusalka / Metropolitan Opera

An attractive draw to this performance was the casting of Kristine Opolais as the title character. As an actress, she’s evocative and affecting, yet her voice doesn’t tend to coat my ears in richness. However, my auditory senses were deliciously rewarded when Jamie Barton took the stage as Ježibaba, the cackling, steampunk-esque witch. She stole the show !

Kristine Opolais as Rusalka and Jamie Barton as Ježibaba / Metropolitan Opera

Yes, I was eager to attend Rusalka. Even more, I was excited to create a costume for the opera. With the scene set as the rivers and lakes amidst a cool forest, I played around with the thought of building a transitional outfit that started as “water” and gradually turned into a “land” ─ like an ecological ombré effect. Skirts and scarves in blues and greens would resemble the water and an Easter bonnet made of paper plates would have been a crafty representation of the flora above. Here’s my Easter bonnet from years ago:

Remember this, Aunt Countess ?

But no ─ I couldn’t wear my flamboyant fascinator to the theater and cause the folks behind me to become utterly enraged. Farewell to the forest ! Returning to the water theme, a backstage video from the Met threw me a helpful costuming clue…

Rusalka costume discussion / Metropolitan Opera

Just as in the Met costume shop, I fashioned my own lilies for my skirts of “water”… except my lilies were not silk… they were coffee filters !

A stack of basic white coffee filters were snipped and twisted to create fanned water lilies with pale yellow stamens reaching forth. Atop my head was a lily pad, which was a crocheted doily I made for my mother years ago. And the crochet lace halter top ? I bought it at a consignment store. My outfit cost me next to nothing and was a worthy copycat of Kristine Opolais’s Act I gown.

Kristine Opolais in Act I of Rusalka / Metropolitan Opera

In “The Little Mermaid” as well as Rusalka, the price for becoming a human being is the seeker’s own voice and immortality. And while the ending in the opera was not a “happily ever after” scenario, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result of my costume ─ all the fun of a water nymph for the day with no remote danger of losing my voice or life.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rusalka ─ Antonín Dvořák (1901)
Live in HD air date: February 25, 2017

Cast:
Rusalka ─ Kristine Opolais
The Prince ─ Brandon Jovanovich
Ježibaba ─ Jamie Barton
The Foreign Princess ─ Katarina Dalayman
Vodník, the Water Gnome ─ Eric Owens

Credits:
Conductor ─ Sir Mark Elder
Production ─ Mary Zimmerman
Set Designer ─ Daniel Ostling
Costume Designer ─ Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting Designer ─ T.J. Gerckens
Choreographer ─ Austin McCormick
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani

Nabucco

Verdi’s breakout hit in 1842, with its themes of captivity and the longing for freedom, was a poignant piece during its debut as Italy battled for its independence amid wars and political reshuffling. Allegorical as it may have been to the Italians of the mid 19th century, I viewed Nabucco at its face value: an early Verdi work of biblical proportions.

A scene from Nabucco / Metropolitan Opera

Nabucco (Italian for “Nebuchadnezzar”) is loosely based on King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the Israelites. However, it should be plain to anyone who has ever seen only part of Nabucco that the opera is misnamed. The real title should have been Abigaille after Nabucco’s power-hungry, domineering daughter. She had the most scenes, the heftiest arias, and the central “villainess” role. Plácido Domingo, the world-renowned veteran taking on the title baritone role, appeared to be a hapless pushover when shouldered next to Liudmila Monstyrska’s broody Abigaille.

Liudmila Monstyrska as Abigaille and Plácido Domingo as Nabucco / Metropolitan Opera

A lackluster love triangle storyline was almost enough to derail the entire the opera if it hadn’t of been for the true stars of the performance: the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. The one and only scene that rejuvenated the tepid opera was the Hebrew Slaves Chorus in Act III. So breathtaking and enlightening was the rendition that it was encored to great pleasure.

A clip from the Hebrew Slaves Chorus / Metropolitan Opera

Designing costumes for ancient-set operas is something that rarely sends my heart into ecstatics. Whether it be the hot desert dust or the use of ordinary sandals and figure-swallowing robes, I have to take extra measures to become motivated to sew for such settings. Fortunately, the Met’s classic staging of Nabucco offered me a generous hint for my costume. As mentioned above, the Hebrew Slaves Chorus was THE “wait for it” moment of the opera. Why not dress down for a change and become a slave for a day ? This I did.

Some of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco / Metropolitan Opera

My mother had a patchwork chambray dress in her closet that I used for my base. Although not darkened with dirt, the patches symbolized simplicity and frugality to me, which I thought fitting for a slave. Looking over photos from past performances of Nabucco, however, the Hebrew Slaves donned on their heads what seemed like Betsy Ross mop(b) caps from the Colonial times.

Betsy Ross and women sewing the American flag

Okay, I could do that… Actually, it was easier than I thought. All that was needed were two large circles of fabric, elastic, and a sewing machine. There are numerous tutorials online for making a mop/mob cap, but I found this one to be the most helpful, especially since this was to be my second sewing project ever. Just remember to cut larger circles if making one for an adult ! http://pattisoriginals-pattisplace.blogspot.com/2010/12/tutorial-mop-cap.html?m=1

Mop cap from pattisoriginals-pattisplace.blogspot.com

What’s slavery without bondage ? Some lightweight plastic Halloween chains added an obvious denotation to my outfit while a slouchy gray cardigan, grease-stained apron, and socked sandals helped me fit right in with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus.

And yes, dirt was part of the job. Or rather, brown and black eyeshadow brushed onto my face… While I may have looked the part of servitude, I didn’t desire to smell of it !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Nabucco ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1842)
Live in HD air date: January 7, 2017

Cast:
Nabucco ─ Plácido Domingo
Abigaille ─ Liudmila Monstyrska
Fenena ─ Jamie Barton
Ismaele ─ Russell Thomas
Zaccaria ─ Dmitry Belosselskiy

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Elijah Moshinsky
Set Designer ─ John Napier
Costume Designer ─ Andreane Neofitou
Lighting Designer ─ Howard Harrison
Revival Stage Director ─ J. Knighten Smit
Live In HD Director ─ Barbara Sweete
Host ─ Eric Owens