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

Art Deco Rigoletto

Even if you’ve never seen the opera Rigoletto, you are most likely familiar with the Verdi work by its famous, hummable aria, “La donna è mobile,” heard everywhere from TV commercials to Italian restaurants. While I had the chance of watching a Rat Pack, neon-bedecked, “Vegas” Rigoletto during the Met’s free streaming at the time of their shutdown, I still felt the need to see the opera “in person” at the theater, this time set in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s. Talk about a departure from 16th century Mantua !

Michael Mayer’s “Vegas” Rigoletto
Bartlett Sher’s “Weimar” Rigoletto

What struck me the most about the new Bartlett Sher Rigoletto were the parallels to Sher’s Met production of Otello: blocky sets that felt closed off to the audience and gave the appearance of hazardous movement among the singers (watch out for the columns !). Another exasperating comparison was the inability to distinguish the lead characters from the rest of the crowd. Both the Duke in Rigoletto and Otello wore the clothes of their compatriots, with little, insufficient distinction. The costumes for the men looked to be the same in both productions ─ perhaps the budget was snug ? Overall, I felt the Weimar production was too garish and dark and was left questioning… “What’s wrong with 16th century Mantua ?!”

I always knew what I would wear before I ever had a 20’s themed opera to attend. A few years back, a friend gave me a vintage black cashmere sweater with a cream fur collar and rhinestone buckle at the waist. The tag indicated its pedigree: “100% Cashmere, Made in Scotland.” It was an instant love affair. Musing over the garment brought to mind the Silent Film era and its actresses I had seen in movies. My vision of a pale pink charmeuse gown and a black wool cloche was the surest way to bring the sweater’s former glory back into the limelight. A flapper would agree…

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
Anita Page

Since I knew that I was going to wear a cashmere sweater, the last thing I wanted was a long sleeve dress. That narrowed down the field of patterns. Ultimately, Folkwear’s Tango Dress fit the bill of a sleeveless, Art Deco design for my Silent Film Star look. Mary Pickford, here I come !

Folkwear’s Tango Dress

Silk charmeuse and a gorgeous wool suiting tangoed their way to 1920’s perfection ! This was my first time making a real hat, not one out of cardboard or headbands. A silk taffeta band decorated the supple cloche. With expensive fabrics and elegant finishes, these garments and accessories definitely classified themselves as ‘Couture’ pieces.

The hardest part was working on my 1920’s “slouch.” (Ouch !)

Bundled in the warmth of the sweater, I was set for the cold January day. Only my feet were chilled. To fashion a Mary Jane style shoe, I safety pinned sewn strips of black linen to the inside of my regular black pumps. Effective, cheap, and temporary ─ no need to buy new shoes !

Nearly everyone I meet fawns over the fan purse I crocheted specifically for this opera. And the best part ? The cotton lining material is printed with opera glasses ! How neat is that ?!

An Art Deco Rigoletto allowed me to venture into a decade that has never suited my fashion tastes. But as with most bouts of historical costuming, I gained an appreciation and greater attraction to the bias-cut drop waist dresses of the time. I can’t say that the same treatment applied to Rigoletto was as appealing.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rigoletto ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1851)
Live in HD air date: January 29, 2022

Cast:
Rigoletto ─ Quinn Kelsey
Gilda ─ Rosa Feola
Duke of Mantua ─ Piotr Beczała
Maddalena ─ Varduhi Abrahamyan
Sparafucile ─ Andrea Mastroni

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Rustioni
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard

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

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

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

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

“Pavarotti” documentary

Sometimes, it is the decisions made on a whim that turn out to be the best. This is what occurred as I opened a regular, mundane e-mail from the Met promoting a new documentary on Luciano Pavarotti. I didn’t know much about Pavarotti, personally, although his voice had always pleased my ears. With the doldrums of the slow summer months poised ahead of me, I figured, “Why not ?” and alerted my theater friends of the occasion.

Trailer for “Pavarotti” documentary

The documentary was informative in that it taught me more about Pavarotti’s life and highlighted his ebullient, larger-than-life personality. However, there was one thing missing in the context of the film and that was the preeminent tenor’s notorious reputation for being “difficult”. Although there were glimpses into tumultuous family spats, most bouts of “divo” behavior were brushed aside like specks of dust on a woolen suit. Naturally, the film was devoid of any serious damages to Pavarotti’s persona, notwithstanding his extramarital affair with Nicoletta Mantovani.

Nicoletta Mantovani and Luciano Pavarotti

Without question, the summit for all was the extended clip of one of Pavarotti’s celebrated performances of “Nessun dorma”. Behind and around me, I heard uncontrollable sniffles and the muffled sounds of Kleenexes to congested noses.

Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma”

Pavarotti’s homeland and heritage of Modena, Italy, inspired the theme for my outfit worn to the documentary: Dripping in Diamonds. Situated between the fashion hubs of Milan and Florence, the northern Italian location evoked thoughts of trendy couture gowns and the glamourous styles. Brash and gaudy like a movie star, but also regal and polished, I grabbed one of my standby dresses from my closet: a sapphire blue one shoulder chiffon gown with rhinestone detailing on the shoulder. Years ago, I bought this gown on clearance at a consignment shop and now it was getting its turn in the spotlight. The jewels and gloves (and a purse “dripping in diamonds” ─ also a consignment find) were the icing on the cake.

A high bun with ringlets spiraling down was just right for my Italian diva look…

Oh, and those shoes ? They’re used, too ! I bought them at a resale closet for $16. They’re Ivanka Trump stilettos whose heights reach the heavens !

Leaving the theater that night, I had to trot back inside because of a missing pair of glasses I thought I had left behind. When I inquired at the podium in the lobby, one of the young attendants remarked that I all needed was a British accent. “Why ?” I asked. “Because you look like royalty” replied the attendant.

A diva I was.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Credits

“Pavarotti” documentary
Date seen: June 4, 2019

Roberto Devereux

From the sextet of wives belonging the brutishly fickle Henry VIII to the bloody tug-of-war between Catholicism and Protestantism, the Tudor period in history is a meaty bone of tumult and fascination. The drama of the time must have captured Donizetti’s mind as well: his trilogy of Tudor operas is a tour-de-force for singers and a favorite haunt for acting potential. And so, here I was, at the finale of my first opera season, with the opportunity to see a spectacle of costumes and make-up prowess.

Sondra Radvanovsky in a promotional photo for Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera

The buzz around this performance of Roberto Devereux was Sondra Radvanovsky’s daring run at the Tudor Triple Crown ─ she performed all three of the Donizetti Tudor queens in one season to riotous acclaim. However, I found more appeal in the light Italian strings of the overture than the flapping voice of Radvanovsky. Furthermore, the duets and trios were the hallmark in this opera, especially with the creamy-toned Elīna Garanča and the drama surrounding her character (caught between her husband and her forbidden love for the Queen’s favorite suitor).

More than anticipated, the make-up was sensational, undoubtedly its very best on Sondra Radvanovsky’s aged Elizabeth. The perfectly coiffed paprika peruke was doffed at the opera’s end to reveal a withering white fray of “natural” hair that was a remarkable feat of theatrical trickery.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera

Moving onto the costumes, I knew this opera would feature extremely intricate pieces that were beyond my scope of sewing skills. I did, after all, just teach myself to sew almost 6 weeks earlier for when I needed an outfit for Madame Butterfly. What was I to do ? An offhanded observation of Tudor portraits easily pointed out the garment of ubiquity, the ruff. Oh, yes, I MUST have a ruff, but a different kind of ruff… “Tudor Couture on the Cheap !”

Something that was crafty and unique was in order and the first thing I wanted to tweak was the color of the ruff. Instead of a glaring white starched collar, I imagined a more earthy accessory to compliment the neutral colors of the outfit I had planned to wear. Configuring the ruff was crucial: who would want to wear an all encompassing collar, especially when sitting in one of the high backed chairs of the theater ? No, that wouldn’t do. Rather, I opted for an open ruff, one that swooped around the back neckline and left the chest exposed.

Much better.

Now for the construction… Since sewing was out of the question, I devised a plan to use a large cardboard pizza round and cut away part of the front for the neck and chest opening, which worked well. But the most extraordinary feature of the ruff was the actual “ruffle” material: unbleached coffee filters ! With their curly edges and cost effective efficiency, the coffee filters were perfect when artfully folded and glued onto the pizza round. Both the top and bottom of the cardboard round were layered with the filters and attached using hot glue. All that was left was to glue two inward facing clothespins to the undersides of the ruff near the front points and I now had an accessory worthy of the Tudors.

Alas, I misjudged the back protrusion ─ throughout the day in the theater, I was forced to sit with my head bent downward and forward because of the ruff’s extended back edge. By the curtain call, I had a crick in my neck.

With my first opera season in the books, I unclipped the paper ruff and admired its beauty and ingenuity… but not its discomfort.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Roberto Devereux ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1837)
Live in HD air date: April 16, 2016

Cast:
Queen Elizabeth ─ Sondra Radvonovsky
Roberto Devereux ─ Matthew Polenzani
Sara, Duchess of Nottingham ─ Elīna Garanča
Duke of Nottingham ─ Mariusz Kwiecien

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Sir David McVicar
Costume Designer ─ Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt