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

Don Carlos

Verdi’s Don Carlos offers audiences a gripping spectacle of grand opera. With the backdrop of the 16th century Spanish court during the Inquisition, the pallor of death reigns over the piece with dark drama eking out from every crevice. Furthermore, the interpersonal relationships and the conflict between duty, love, and country offer opportunities for theatrical greatness. Uniquely, this occasion marked the first time in the Met’s history that the original five act French version of the opera was performed. It was nearly five hours long.

A scene from Don Carlos / Metropolitan Opera

Despite the long chair time, the opera carried enough interest to render it worthwhile. Each of the six principal characters was involved in a dynamic plot twist that was heightened by the thunderous orchestra and clever camera angles. The new production by David McVicar, whose work is admired by both traditionalists and innovators, was both edgy and elegant. Picking a favorite moment was tough. However, the end scene where Carlos perishes and the departed Rodrigue steps out of heavenly white light to lay his beloved friend to rest took my breath away. Well done !

Matthew Polenzani As Don Carlos, Jamie Barton as Princess Eboli, and Etienne Dupuis as Rodrigue / Metropolitan Opera

Don Carlos may have been a marathon, but the creation of my costume was not. In fact, it carried a moniker relating to its rapidity: “Two Week Tudor.” Immediately following the last opera, I began sewing my outfit for the next performance in two weeks.
Choosing a pattern that was simple and effective was vital for the time crunch ─ since I was familiar with Andrea Schewe’s Simplicity Tudor pattern (it had been at the forefront of my preparations for Maria Stuarda that was to take place in May 2020), I turned to the out-of-print pattern for a quick fix. With little time to sew fussy, intricate pieces, I opted for View B on the pattern envelope.

Simplicity 3782

Historical accuracy was not important as Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s Met costumes blended the semblance of the period with modern features, such as puff sleeves, shawl collars, and wrist cuffs…

During the cutting process of the main fabric, it became painfully obvious that there was not enough material to cut the entire dress. With the same material out of stock for the foreseeable future, I needed an alternate plan. Think, think, think ! And then, a lightbulb─ several years ago, I was given a bolt of upholstery fabric from my friends at the quilt shop, which I willingly accepted. My mother balked; taking others’ “stuff” to store at home is not one of my better habits. But something inside me knew that there would come a time of need for this autumnal printed bolt of fabric. Sure enough, there was.

Thank you, Miss Pat and Mr. Al !

Fortunately, I had a farthingale (hoopskirt) already made from my anticipation of Maria Stuarda. However, in my inexperience with sewing hoopskirts at the time, I foolishly used ½” wide steel hooping instead of a lighter weight ¼” hoop. Add into consideration the 12+ yards of material for the dress and then imagine sitting in a boxy movie theater seat for five hours while wearing it all. Shockingly, the entire dress, underskirt, and heavy hoopskirt only weighed around 8lbs.

With lots of gold jewelry and rings, I was suited up for the spectacle of the opera…

As serendipitous as the bolt of upholstery fabric was to the project, I was even more surprised by my mother’s reaction. The shape of the silhouette overlaid with the copious folds of woodsy fabric made her proclaim that it was the most beautiful dress I’ve ever made. Who would have guessed that something created out of necessity could have turned out so well ? As for the material that was set aside due to insufficient yardage, I have plans to revive it for the Italian version of Don Carlos in November. Hopefully, that performance won’t be quite as lengthy.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Don Carlos ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1867)
Live in HD air date: March 26, 2022

Cast:
Don Carlos ─ Matthew Polenzani
Élisabeth de Valois ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Princess Eboli ─ Jamie Barton
Rodrigue ─ Etienne Dupuis
Philippe II ─ Eric Owens
Grand Inquisitor ─ John Relyea
Monk ─ Matthew Rose

Credits:
Conductor ─ Patrick Furrer
Production ─ David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Movement Director ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Ariadne auf Naxos

If there is an opera that causes more bouts of stifled exasperation or muddled confusion than Ariadne auf Naxos, its title remains a mystery. The music─ sublime, the plot─ a headscratcher; Strauss’s “opera within an opera” elicits both “ahhs !” as well as “huhs ?!” At least, that’s how I felt when I viewed the opera as part of the Met’s free streaming that was offered when the house was dark.
Armed with the illuminating advantage of past experience, I had my reasons for attending this current Ariadne, but none greater than to see and hear Lise Davidsen as the prima donna/exiled goddess.

Lise Davidsen in Ariadne auf Naxos / Metropolitan Opera

With the voice of a titan and the face of a schoolgirl, there is little doubt that Lise is a star. Unleashing her full power during “Es gibt ein Reich” was like having a blast of thunder rattle your bones. An answer of satisfaction was given to the promulgated hype, but what took me by surprise was the caliber of the performances given by the other singers. Isabel Leonard’s frustrated idealism as the Composer won my fervent applause.

Isabel Leonard in Ariadne auf Naxos / Metropolitan Opera

Opera seria interpolated with an Italian farce sounds strange, but the plot of Ariadne auf Naxos was much clearer to me the second time around and really deserves a further listen. With the cast that performed and the resplendent orchestra of the Met, that task was highly agreeable.

A scene from Ariadne auf Naxos

Despite being the titular character of the opera, Ariadne is not that interesting of a leading lady. She’s weepy, melancholy, and a touch morbid over her present fate of lonesome exile. She may have a great aria, but for the most part, her character is just “blah” until Bacchus sails in and whisks her away to the heavens. However, there is a complete comic foil to Ariadne’s gloominess: the coquettish clown, Zerbinetta.

Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta and Lise Davidsen as Ariadne

When I watched the 2003 Ariadne auf Naxos with Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay, I was captivated by the spitfire vocalism and personality of the coloratura soprano, Zerbinetta. She steals the show, every time. In addition to her dynamic role, she also has the best costume in the whimsical Elijah Moshinsky production ─ harlequin from top to toe with 18th century embellishments. Who would want to play Ariadne when Zerbinetta’s character and outfit are so much fun ?! My costume choice was easy: harlequin, please !

I made everything about my outfit, excluding the tights and shoes. While it was one of the most labor-intensive projects I’ve completed to date, all the components played together into a kaleidoscopic array of FUN ! All that was needed was a little bit of sass…

As a creator, I love all my “children,” but this outfit, which started out as entirely white, was an especial favorite. And that hat ! Would you believe that it was made out of felt and cardstock ?! The cockade of feathers and tulle tufts solidified my look as uniquely “Zerbinetta.”

It was impossible not to be happy while wearing this outfit, at the same time seeing its double on the big screen. And it was impossible not to be enchanted by Strauss’s dreamy (and quirky) Ariadne auf Naxos.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For the ‘step-by-step’ on how I created Zerbinetta’s kaleidoscopic harlequin costume, check out the post below:
https://costumeclosetcouture.com/2022/04/04/diamonds-are-a-girls-best-friend-zerbinettas-harlequin-costume/

Cast and Credits:

Ariadne auf Naxos ─ Richard Strauss (1912)
Live in HD air date: March 12, 2022

Cast:
Ariadne ─ Lise Davidsen
Zerbinetta ─ Brenda Rae
Composer ─ Isabel Leonard
Bacchus ─ Brandon Jovanovich
Harlequin ─ Sean Michael Plumb
Music Master ─ Johannes Martin Kränzle
Major-Domo ─ Wolfgang Brendel

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marek Janowski
Production ─ Elijah Moshinsky
Set and Costume Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani

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

My Halloween Costumes From Years Past

Long before I ever started dressing up in costume for the operas, I spent much of my Septembers and Octobers surreptitiously slaving away in my small bedroom on my Halloween costume for the year. Unsurprisingly, Halloween is my favorite holiday ─ not because of witches and ghouls and black and orange décor, but simply because I have always loved dressing up.

In the spirit of the season, I thought I would share some of my past outfits.

Before learning to sew on a machine, I had to rely on tape, garbage bags, and old sheets to create costumes. In 2013, newspaper was my material of choice…

I went as “Old News” ─ quite literally since all the newspaper used was out of date before the 31st dawned. This costume was well worn: in all, I slipped on the tiered skirt and laced up the “corset” bodice 7-8 times during the season. Thankfully, it never rained.

I love history. It’s an engaging escape for my antiquarian imagination. I also love to learn about the famous (and infamous) characters in history. Not knowing exactly what inspired it, I chose to be Marie Antoinette in 2014. The peruke and panniers were a crafting feat; both were constructed from plastic grocery bags and toilet paper rolls, but that’s where the similarities ended. Long stretches of white cotton were carefully hot glued to the cardboard “curlers” of the wig and then given a misting of watered gray paint. I crocheted the hairy tendrils.
For years I kept the safety pinned skirt of tulle and sheets in a desolate drawer… until I realized that I was never going to wear flimsy cardboard panniers again and my mother wanted her sheets back. “Let them eat cake !”

In the same month that I was introduced to my first opera, my family went on a cruise ! Who would have thought that that cruise would wipe out 2½ months of social activities ? Yes, I came down with a horrible illness during the tail end of the trip that caused me to miss Tannhäuser in HD and Halloween 2015…

Emerald Princess docked in Cozumel

With a new love came a new passion as I taught myself to sew for Madama Butterfly in 2016.

I promise, my hair wasn’t so much a knotted mess when I actually went trick-or-treating…

It’s always great when an opera outfit seamlessly doubles as a Halloween costume. My Queen of the Night getup from Die Zauberflöte was a timely hit…

…as was my Egyptian costume from Aida ! Not only was this costume commenced and completed in under a month, but it was also worn within an hour of arriving home from the matinee encore performance of La Fanciulla del West.

A Gold Rush Girl by day, Cleopatra’s doppelgänger by night… it was a whirlwind Halloween.

Brünnhilde the Valkyrie… Is there anything spookier than a mythical being whose primary purpose is to decide who lives and dies in battle and gathers up the fallen heroes to haul them to Valhalla ???

And just in case you’re wondering, I left my axe at home for the evening…

In all my years of dressing up, I don’t think I ever disguised myself as a princess; maybe a witch in a long, black gown or Miss America, but never a princess. The plush pink 1890’s ball gown from Manon was my outlet for elegance and grace, living out every little girl’s fantasy.

Clearly my long-time love of dressing up has played a starring role in my life. The only question left is… what will I wear this Halloween ?

Happy Halloween !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

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

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

Die Zauberflöte ─ The Queen of the Night

If you have a penchant for fairy tales like I do, you’ll find genuine delight in Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte. Centered around a quest for truth and knowledge (and a damsel in distress), the opera is as noble as its hero, Tamino. Between stipulated testing and bravery of self-determination, I willingly succumbed to the dashing chivalry of the prince on a mission to rescue the princess, Pamina.

Charles Castronovo as Tamino and Golda Schultz as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

If the pursuit of true love doesn’t tickle your fancy, the spectacular production by Julie Taymor (of “The Lion King” on Broadway fame) will surely elicit at least one or two gasps of wonder and amazement. The uniqueness of the costumes and puppetry fits seamlessly with the whimsical roots of the opera. There’s even creative comedy for those still unpersuaded.

Marcus Werba as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

Still not convinced ? Perhaps a fearsome villain is more appealing to you and luckily Die Zauberflöte showcases one of the most despised in the bewitching Queen of the Night. While the name sounds like a beacon among the stars and moon, the wicked queen is far from harmonious and caused me a slight shiver, partially due to the most unattractive styling of the character’s costume and make-up. If there was any doubt as to whether the Queen could make a face turn later in the opera, her appearance alone body slammed those speculations onto the floor.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

With the Queen of the Night singing the most famous aria in the opera (and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too), it was without question that I would disguise myself as this otherworldly being for my outing to the opera. While the Julie Taymor costumes are original and ostentatious, I didn’t necessarily feel they best embodied the title of “Queen of the Night” so I imagined my own vision of the character.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

I had a long black velvet dress in my closet ─ that was a running start ─ and now I needed to accessorize the pitch black gown to fully realize its nocturnally regal potential. A queen needs a crown, right ? I thought so, too, and cut a pattern out of a corrugated cardboard box, spray painted it silver, and glued on separately cut star and moon shapes (spray painted and glittered) to the tiara. Silky black ribbons were used as the fastener. The Queen had her crown !

“But what else ?” I pondered. The idea of wearing various accessories whisked through my mind, but when I spotted a shimmery black organza printed with silver stars online, I knew I had found my answer. What could be more stunning than a floating veil of the night sky ? Using 2 yards of fabric, I gathered one widthwise edge and sewed it onto a hair comb. To the opposite widthwise edge, I drew arced lines creating a circular perimeter around what became the bottom of the veil. All raw edges and selvedges were finished and voilà ─ a veil ! Just look at how it sparkles in the evening breeze…

With all the articles combined together (including my long black gloves and jewelry), the outfit’s celestial beauty belied the cruelty of the Queen.

Psst ! This outfit also became my Halloween costume for the year. My bedazzled spider bracelet simply begged to be taken trick-or-treating…

As charming as the starry night, Die Zauberflöte goes down as my favorite Mozart opera. The music dazzles and the story is uplifting. But I’m a sucker for fairy tales, after all…

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Die Zauberflöte ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)
Live in HD air date: October 14, 2017

Cast:
Pamina ─ Golda Schultz
Tamino ─ Charles Castronovo
Papageno ─ Marcus Werba
Queen of the Night ─ Kathryn Lewek
Sarastro ─ René Pape
Speaker ─ Christian Van Horn

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Julie Taymor
Set Designer ─ George Tsypin
Costume Designer ─ Julie Taymor
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Puppet Designers ─ Julie Taymor, Michael Curry
Choreographer ─ Mark Dendy
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra

Porgy and Bess

Folk tale. Sing-a-long staple. Twentieth century masterpiece. Porgy and Bess is beloved for many reasons, but there’s probably none greater than being America’s opera. The title protagonists ─ lovable cripple, Porgy, and well-meaning drug addict, Bess, offer glimpses of an unlikely love by an even more unlikely pair in the Gershwins’ classic, which features hit tunes like “Summertime”, “I Got Plenty O’Nuttin'”, and “Ain’t Necessarily So”, just to name a few.

Angel Blue as Bess and Eric Owens as Porgy in Porgy and Bess / Metropolitan Opera

This was the first time in over 30 years that Porgy and Bess was making an appearance at the Met. In James Robinson’s new production, a highly skilled ensemble cast sauntered around the planked floor of Catfish Row, a slum in Charleston, South Carolina. Tough-talking matriarch Maria (played by veteran mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves), devoted young parents Clara and Jake, Bible-thumping Serena, slithering Sportin’ Life, and Bess’s brutish ex-lover Crown rounded out the cast of dynamic characters. While intentionally created to be rudimentary in its design, the linear wood slats of the settlement almost looked like a playground jungle gym with its inhabitants hanging out of open window frames and weaving around the pilings below.

A scene from Porgy and Bess / Metropolitan Opera

Also swinging beneath the rafters was Gershwin’s jazzy score, which easily identified itself as a frequenter of non-operatic revues. Because of its atypical approach in music (it’s not your run-of-the-mill bel canto or verismo !), I couldn’t help but think that Porgy and Bess belonged more on Broadway as a musical than it did at the Met as an opera. There was too much talk and jive and not enough singing for my tastes. Nevertheless, the opera made for an enjoyable afternoon of spirited routines and recognizable melodies.

A scene from Porgy and Bess / Metropolitan Opera

Porgy and Bess takes place during the early 1930’s as the Great Depression doles out its hardships. Along with the coastal Charlestonian locale, where a battalion of reeds stand tall on bordering estuaries, I had plenty of costume ideas swirling in my head… Ultimately, my plan was to blend the two setting features into a feedsack print sundress that would be perfect for a picnic on Kittiwah Island, just as in the opera. Using the past performance pictures from the English National Opera and Dutch National Opera as my inspiration (the Met’s production would be identical), I had my vision set.

Nicole Campbell as Bess and Nmon Ford as Crown in English National Opera’s Porgy and Bess

Bess’s picnic dress conveyed a myriad of 1930’s details in its design: underbust gathers, a separate waist yoke, and buckle tie bows to embellish the frock. Locating the right material was the first step and boy, did I find it ! I had one uncompromising requisite when shopping and that was that the fabric chosen HAD to match a pair of strappy block heel sandals I had in my closet. No exceptions ! Although I had perused the web and ordered samples in search of my ideal “feedsack floral”, I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the printed patterns and/or the colors… until I opened the newest edition of my swatch club mailer and pointed to a cotton stretch poplin. “That’s it !” I rejoiced.

Cotton stretch poplin and coordinating pocket lining material with block heel sandals

The fabric matched the shoes almost perfectly and I was (mostly) pleased with my cute 30’s sundress. Too bad the weather was nasty the day of the opera… I had to bundle my bare legs in a blanket at the theater because of the cold, wet February front that had wafted its way across the state. Ick !

The weather may have been less than ideal that day, but the warmth of “Summertime” and the endearment of America’s greatest opera, Porgy and Bess, were enough to hearten the shrillest skies.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha


Curious about how I fashioned my feedsack frock ? Check out my tutorial post on its creation !

Cast and Credits:

Porgy and Bess ─ George Gershwin (1935)
Live in HD air date: February 1, 2020

Cast:
Bess ─ Angel Blue
Clara ─ Golda Schultz
Serena ─ Latonia Moore
Maria ─ Denyce Graves
Sportin’ Life ─ Frederick Ballantine
Porgy ─ Eric Owens
Crown ─ Alfred Walker
Jake ─ Donovan Singletary

Credits:
Conductor ─ David Robertson
Production ─ James Robinson
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─ Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Projection Designer ─ Luke Halls
Choreographer ─ Camille A. Brown
Fight Director ─ David Leong
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Audra McDonald

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen

Relatively unknown to the world, dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen has been forging a meteoric rise to stardom with her powerful voice that has some critics calling her “the great Wagnerian promise of her generation.” With as much hype (and height ─ Lise is nearly 6’2″ !) surrounding the shy, Norwegian native, my interest in seeing this uncut gem perform was keener than usual.

Lise Davidsen performing at Oscarshall Palace with James Baillieu accompanying / Metropolitan Opera

Although lacking the total confidence that accompanies decades of professional stage experience, Lise’s humble, offhanded spirit brought a refreshing genuineness to her performance, which included a weighted set list of Wagnerian arias, Grieg, Verdi, and Strauss. There was a little bit of everything, so much so that the program felt like a potluck dinner party. Britten’s “Johnny” was playful with sultry low notes, Strauss’s Op. 27 was sublime, and “I Could Have Danced All Night” was a sugary charmer with James Baillieu’s scrumptious piano tip-tapping away. Adding to the ambiance was the stately Oscarshall Palace dining room, which easily recalled images of “Beauty and the Beast” to my fairy tale mind.

Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu performing at Oscarshall Palace in Oslo, Norway / Metropolitan Opera

The Cuisine

Known for its simplicity and seafood, catering our escape to Norway brought out new ideas and enticing recipes to attempt. Chris couldn’t resist trying her hand at gravlax and it was a smashing success ! Cured with salt, sugar, peppercorns, and dill, the sliced salmon was flavorful yet subtle.

Pairing marvelously with traditional mustard dill sauce, minced red onion, and a dribbling of capers, the feast was in running order. Please examine the filigreed handle on the spoon: coincidentally, it says ‘Oslo’ ─ how fitting !

Caraway crackers and rye bread were used as the foundation for the salmon and just look at how gorgeous Anne’s cheese tray was next to my platter of homemade cookies !

From left to right: Danish blue, Jarlsberg, and Havarti with dill

We do eat well at our little opera watch parties, that’s for certain ! The table was spread with delicacies from “The Land of the Midnight Sun” with a fanfare of ligonberry napkins serving as a makeshift flower arrangement.

You wish you were here with me !

Originally planning to bring a rye flour cardamon yeast bread with raisins, I scrapped that endeavour after the initial test run was a complete flop. I then switched my focus to traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies, like sirupsnippers and coconut macaroons…

Because of my dietary restrictions, I made the cookies with rye flour, coconut sugar, and maple syrup ─ no white flour, no white sugar ! The macaroons were especially artistic with their torched tips of flaked coconut.

The Clothes

When the concert location was announced, there was no hesitation as to what I would wear. Earlier in the year, I had sewn a Norwegian bunad costume for The Flying Dutchman that never was and so I’ve had a skirt and vest laying around the nether regions of my bedroom for months. Now with the perfect opportunity, I wore one of my mother’s blouses (swooping collar turned right side in for greater authenticity) under my sewn additions, which were based off a German dirndl pattern.

The palm trees in the background certainly don’t match the sub-arctic Norwegian landscape, but at least my outfit resembled the North Country. Mission accomplished !

Told by the cut caricatures of the sirupsnipper cookies, the fourth Met Stars Live In Concert event could be summed up as such:

From the forests of Norway…

…rising star Lise Davidsen brought her talents to a concert…

…broadcast around the world…

…where she won our hearts !

Hopefully, Lise Davidsen’s return to the Met will be soon; her voice (in addition to her country’s culinary specialties) were delectable !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen
Oscarshall Palace
Oslo, Norway
Live broadcast date: August 29, 2020
(Date seen: September 2, 2020)

Lise Davidsen ─ soprano
James Baillieu ─ piano