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

Cendrillon ─ Project MASSenet

How could I resist ?! When Cinderella slips her fair foot into the shoe of Massenet, it’s bound to be a ball ! My bubbling excitement aside, I was highly enthused when I espied Laurent Pelly’s whimsical production perched on the latter portion of the Met’s Live in HD 2017-2018 schedule. Would the slipper fit ?

A scene from Cendrillon / Metropolitan Opera

My motives for seeing the opera did not begin and end with the story of Cinderella, but rather Massenet─ Several years prior, I had been deeply moved by a recording of the “Meditation” piece from Thaïs as I was struggling with a health issue. The soothing sounds of the strings were beautiful as well as edifying to my body and spirit. Since then, I had long desired to attend a Massenet performance of any title.

A performance of the Meditation piece from Massenet’s Thaïs (video: TheClassicalmusicfan)

So how did I Cendrillon suit me ? Well, not as much as I had imagined. Thinking of a fairy tale, I expected the music to be joyous and buoyant. While there were moments of bombastic humor during scenes with Stephanie Blythe’s Madame de la Haltière and her two balloon-bottomed daughters, I wouldn’t describe the score as a perfect fit. However, the overall appeal of the story was enough for me to overlook the damp flaws in the music.

Maya Lahyani as Dorothée, Stephanie Blythe as Madame de la Halitère, and Ying Fang as Noémie in Cendrillon / Metropolitan Opera (photo via The New York Times)

Back to my bubbling excitement… The occasion of Cendrillon screamed out loud for me to wear a ball gown─ a BIG, b-r-o-a-d, beautiful ball gown ! A girl could only dream… Since teaching myself to sew in 2016, my projects had been kept to conservative accessories and commercial pattern dresses. But for such a grand occasion, I wanted to branch out and make something that was truly elegant and couture. Looking over the production photos, the creamy eggshell gown in the opera appeared to have been sewn from satin with its hem ombré dyed in charcoal.

Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon and Alice Coote as Prince Charmant

Admittedly, I thought it looked odd and very unusable ─ would I ever be able to wear a gown with a blackened bottom out in public ? Emphatically, not ! No, the gown in the opera was not for me, at least not all of it. Since the price of a full satin skirt would have sent my pocketbook to the gallows, I opted instead for a thrifty gathered tulle skirt. Here are a few of my preliminary sketches:

Searching for guidance, I stumbled upon a site called the Corset Academy and knew I had found my answer: I spotted the most beautiful tulle ball gown skirt I had ever seen and video recorded in easy to follow tutorials so I (and others) could emulate its cloud-like glory. I signed up for the free trial and eventually bought an annual membership.

Tulle ball gown skirt from the Corset Academy

While I did not wear a hoop skirt underneath the gown, a full crinoline suited the style better, especially since 50 yards of tulle wasn’t enough to disguise the appearance of a peeking steel bone from beneath the skirt’s lining. Even without the hoops, the gown was voluminous. I dubbed the creation of this gown as “Project MASSenet” for a reason…

The gown was complemented with a corset back closure on the creamy matte satin bodice.

A cloud of soft tulle… dreamy !

My mother fashioned my hair into a stylish French twist. I just love the elegance of the pearly barrette in its rolled knot !

The process of sewing the ball gown was eye-opening: not only did I learn couture techniques for sewing formal garments, but I also discovered that my mother’s Singer sewing machine, which had been hibernating under her bed since the early 2000’s, was unbeknownst to me, broken. During the gathering of endless strips of tulle ruffles, the bobbin threads continued to snap and brought about a maelstrom of frustration. After the opera, I made an appointment with a local sewing shop to have the machine cleaned whereupon I learned its malady: cracked gears and irreplaceable damaged parts. The diagnosis was fatal and I had to part with my machine. But just as in the story of Cinderella, there is always a silver lining: I purchased a superior Baby Lock machine and serger and it has made all the difference in my sewing.

The slipper of Cendrillon may have been a misfit, but the quality and ease of my Baby Lock machines couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Cendrillon ─ Jules Massenet (1899)
Live in HD air date: April 28, 2018

Cast:
Cendrillon ─ Joyce DiDonato
Prince Charmant ─ Alice Coote
La Fée ─ Kathleen Kim
Madame de la Haltière ─ Stephanie Blythe
Pandolfe ─ Laurent Naouri

Credits:
Conductor ─ Bertrand de Billy
Production ─ Laurent Pelly
Set Designer ─ Barbara de Limburg
Costume Designer ─ Laurent Pelly
Lighting Designer ─ Duane Schuler
Choreographer ─ Laura Scozzi
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Samson et Dalila

It’s a well-known fact that opera is a breeding ground for steamy passages of heart-searing love and passion. Whether through a gripping duet of vocal intensity or timely choreography, an attendee of the opera ─ especially a shy one ─ should be prepared for some “seat squirming”. And so, I braced myself for an assumptive afternoon of red hot heat in a retelling of one of the most notorious couples of biblical proportions: Samson and Delilah.

Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna in Samson et Dalila / Metropolitan Opera

This new production was hyped because of its starring cast. When Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna were teamed together for Carmen in 2009, the fireworks were undeniable, so it has been said by many. Now, almost 10 years later, the two rejoined the stage in hopes of rekindling their chemistry.

Roberto Alagna and Elīna Garanča in Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Although I had not seen the performance of Carmen with Elīna and Roberto, I wasn’t overwhelmed by what I saw in Saint-Saën’s Samson et Dalila. Both performers did well on their own, but I wasn’t moved by their “passion”. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe those same anticipations were more deflated by the cartoonish sets and costumes. Samson’s hair, which was not nearly as long as I had hoped, dangled over a swath of heathered jersey knit and the neon lamé and garish design features on Dalila’s gowns were almost an insult to the rich potential for styling this opera. Pooh !

Elīna Garanča as Dalila and Roberto Alagna as Samson in Samson et Dalila / Metropolitan Opera

Musically, my favorite moment came during the Bacchanale, which sizzled with Middle Eastern flair and energy. The corresponding ballet, however, was far more revealing than what my unprepared eyes had estimated. Remember what I said about seat squirming ? Well, it happened here.

The Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila / Metropolitan Opera

Reputed as a Philistine femme fatale, the excitement to dress as Dalila bubbled within me like a hot spring in an arid desert. However, with a new production, costuming can be a peculiar challenge since the non-existence of past performance photos brings about a crap shoot risk: will the costumes in the opera mimic those worn in the released promotional still shots ? It’s a gamble, but one of an intense ruminating kind. For Samson et Dalila, the promotional media looked to be geared toward a 1970’s disco glam/modern vibe with Elīna Garanča appearing to look like a sultry screen siren.

With that approach, I was thunderstruck by an idea after seeing a model dress on the Corset Academy website:

Courtesy of the Corset Academy

The dress reminded me of the raspberry pink halter neck gown worn in the promos and I had a dynamic plan for the design of my own: bright fuchsia satin and funky orange lace for the side panels.

Several mock-ups were created to manually model the curved lines of the side panels; the finalized muslin pieces were then cut and placed on the satin and lace for sewing. But during the fitting of the lining, I learned something had seriously gone awry: the dress was skin tight and I could barely move ! The next 10 days were spent letting out the seam allowances with mediocre results. Finally, it dawned on me that the only way the dress was going to fit was if I cut “expander” panels and sewed them to the back vertical edges of the dress. Crisis averted !

“Expander” panels sewn to back edges of dress

Although the cleverly concealed error wasn’t my ideal method of creating a dress, a hindsight look into the process taught me that I shouldn’t stuff my mock-ups too tightly ─ the cotton muslin became stretched and therefore rendered a faulty reading on the measurements. Lessons learned during sewing are invaluable for future creations.
In the end, I was elated with the design of the dress and how it hugged my body like a slippery satin snake. My mother styled my hair in “Desert Goddess” fashion, which was inspired by Olga Borodina’s Dalila from the Met in 1998.

Plácido Domingo and Olga Borodina in Samson et Dalila, circa 1998 / Metropolitan Opera

While my wrist was weighted in gold and leather bracelets and my shoes sparkled with the glints of Arabian sands, the real showstopper to this ensemble was the presence of glittering Swarovski crystals (over 500 of them !) that adorned the circular insets on the lace. Pictures cannot prove their luminescence, but the crowd at the theater noticed…

Up close detail of the lace and crystals

Dalila: a sense of worldly glamour with the seduction of a lioness. Samson et Dalila: a lion cub outfitted in plastic rhinestones.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Samson et Dalila ─ Camille Saint-Saëns (1877)
Live in HD air date: October 20, 2018

Cast:
Dalila ─ Elīna Garanča
Samson ─ Roberto Alagna
High Priest of Dagon ─ Laurent Naouri
Abimélech ─ Elchin Azizov
An Old Hebrew ─ Dmitry Belosselskiy

Credits:
Conductor ─ Sir Mark Elder
Production ─ Darko Tresnjak
Set Designer ─ Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer ─ Linda Cho
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Choreographer ─ Austin McCormick
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Susan Graham

La Traviata ─ the Red Dress Disaster

At last ─ a new production of La Traviata ! If you recall, I was not a fan of the previous Met production of Verdi’s timeless tale. A gender fluid mob of tuxedoed chorus members and a bald-faced clock certainly didn’t fit within my perceptions of the glittering Parisian world of Violetta Valéry.

Willy Decker’s production of La Traviata / Metropolitan Opera

Thankfully, that production is now old news. With Michael Mayer stepping in to create a new Traviata, I was more than enthused to supplant a fresh image in my mind of how La Traviata should be staged. The released promotional design concepts seemed promising for an enchanting, whimsical production.

Design concept for Michael Mayer’s production of La Traviata / Metropolitan Opera

While living up to my expectations of a more traditional Traviata, I wouldn’t call it a hands-down winner. Christine Jones’s sets were beautiful, as were Susan Hilferty’s costumes, but the brightness of the colors and the curly embroidery detailing on Alfredo’s jacket (and the chorus members’ attire) could only summon to mind a Disney musical on Broadway.
All things considered, I was pleased by this production of La Traviata and how it partially fulfilled what had been my initial hope: to see a traditionally set performance of opera’s immortal tragedy.

Juan Diego Flórez as Alfredo Germont and Diana Damrau as Violetta Valéry in La Traviata / Metropolitan Opera

Costuming possibilities are rich for Traviata ! Voluminous skirts, statement bodices, and historical implications all play a part in most mainstream performances. Since Michael Mayer’s production was making its world debut at the Met, I had no past performance pictures to reference for designing my costume. All that was available was one promotional sketch released by the Met.

Ambiguously lost between the 18th and 19th centuries, the image lacked the clarity I needed to carry out my design plans. My struggles with coming to a creative solution reached near delirium as I fiddled with different gown styles and ornamentation to no avail…

Eventually, I e-mailed Susan Hilferty, the costume designer for the opera, fishing for possible details. Unsurprisingly, the bait remained on the hook.
With time running out, I resignedly choose a similar style as the promotional sketch. And since the Live in HD broadcast was scheduled just 10 days before Christmas, how could I go wrong with a stylish scarlet gown ?

I categorized this dress under ‘Couture’ because of its showstopping grandeur and formality. But don’t be fooled─ its interior was a mess ! In preparation for draping the outside of the bodice, I sewed the lining only. Multiple fittings promised a success.

Less than a week before the opera, I carefully began folding and manipulating strips of my red matte satin and pinning them to the bodice, arranging them attractively as I went. Once the drapes were secured, I steam pressed them and was ready to try on the gown for the final fitting…

However, when I slipped into the gown, it swallowed me like an engulfing wave ! The dress was HUGE and I didn’t know why… It fit perfectly before I applied the drapes. Panic struck as it was the day before the opera and I didn’t have a dress to wear ! The rest of the day was spent taking in the central back seams and resewing the zipper innumerable times. Each alteration led to another problem and now I was seriously contemplating a Plan B. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., I finished altering the dress to where I felt confident that it wouldn’t fall to the floor as I wore it to the opera. What a close call !

Oh, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet… Throughout the day at the theater, I felt the dress becoming larger and looser with every movement. Fear of a ebbing gown pressed against the forefront of my mind as I consciously made efforts to prevent an embarrassing situation from occurring.
Unzipping the gown in the evening was an utter relief ─ I made it through the opera without a wardrobe malfunction !

Pretty on the outside, tragic on the inside… It’s almost as if the dress had been Violetta herself. And also like Violetta, the long red dress was permanently retired.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

La Traviata ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1853)
Live in HD air date: December 15, 2018

Cast:
Violetta Valéry ─ Diana Damrau
Alfredo Germont ─ Juan Diego Flórez
Giorgio Germont ─ Quinn Kelsey

Credits:
Conductor ─ Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production ─ Michael Mayer
Set Designer ─ Christine Jones
Costume Designer ─ Susan Hilferty
Lighting Designer ─ Kevin Adams
Choreographer ─ Lorin Latarro
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Anita Rachvelishvili

Carmen

“Love is a rebellious bird that no one can tame… And if I love you, watch out !”

Act I ─ Carmen

Opera’s most notorious femme fatale finally sashayed her way into the theater after keeping me waiting for years. Truthfully, I have longed to see Carmen for two reasons. First, the bouncing music, which is both tuneful as well as recognizable, is an alluring draw to Bizet’s landmark opera. And then there’s Carmen herself, a meaty role for any mezzo-soprano. Clémentine Margaine, French by birth, slipped into the black dress for this Live in HD performance.

Clémentine Margaine as Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Gritty, but perfumed, Clémentine Margaine balance crude manners with beguiling charm. Watching her sent my mind into vacillations of resolve as to who she really was: a woman who looked attractive at first glance, but on further inspection was nothing more than a broad wearing lipstick and eyeliner. There was a hardness about her ─ an earthiness ─ that befit the role of the tempestuous gypsy well. This baseness was especially noticeable when compared to the sweet and singular Micaëla, played by Polish soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak, who also happens to be the real life wife of Roberto Alagna, the opera’s Don José !

Aleksandra Kurzak as Micaëla and Roberto Alagna as Don José in Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

While the songs were as exciting as I hoped they would be, I wouldn’t say that Carmen ranks as one of my favorite operas. It’s too long for a story that feels humdrum and predictable. From a personal standpoint, Bizet’s earlier work, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, was much more intriguing in terms of plot and outcome. Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to check Carmen off my list of must-see operas.

A scene from Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Just as the singer who plays Carmen often relishes the chance to live vicariously through the role, so I also wanted to step into the clicking heels of a Spanish gypsy through my portrayal. Although Richard Eyre’s production is set in Seville during the 1930’s, I felt many of the costumes seemed pertinent to the present day and so I decided to model my look after the dancing ensemble worn by Carmen in Act II.

A scene from Act II of Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

A voluminous bell sleeve blouse and lace skirt swings in time to the rousing Gypsy Song while a black corset exemplifies Carmen’s signature seduction. Planning my version of the outfit was easy, especially when I thought of the coral colored crinkle skirt in my mother’s closet that would be perfect for the part. Marking the tiers with rows of beads, it was destined for bohemian couture. Two yards of Raschel lace, which I bought for a bargain during a Black Friday sale, were draped and pinned on the outside of the skirt like a sarong.

The lower half of the outfit complete, I moved onto the fun parts ─ the corset and the blouse !

Yes, I made a corset. It was easy with the patterns and instructions from the Corset Academy, which I use often when making structured garments. Shaping my figure, the corset was mostly hidden beneath the flouncy tie bottom blouse I sewed using the free wrap blouse pattern from Anke Herrmann’s website for Flamenco Dressmaking. Her advice and support were valuable as I altered the style slightly to suit my needs. Once I found a festive dot crepe fabric on closeout online, I was ready to sew my blouse.

Making the bell sleeves was not as difficult as I anticipated, especially using a circle skirt cutting layout. And I loved using the rolled hem setting on my BabyLock serger ! It made the edges of my bell sleeves frilly and polished.

“But what about your hair ? Is it real ?” Yes and no. Looking over past Met performance pictures, I knew I needed tightly curled locks to match that of the character’s and so I related my plight to my mother (also known as my hairstylist) whereupon she gauged that trying to curl my naturally soft and wavy hair was a futile effort. Ultimately, she suggested I find some hairpieces. Well, I did, but the entirety of that story is not fit for publication. It involved a shady shop on the wrong side of town and a man who tried to convince me that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Che Guevara. Fearful for my life ? Just a smidge.
Doing her best, my mother mingled my hair with the newly bought hairpieces to capture the Spanish vibe I was seeking.

Steeped in Sevillian style, I thoroughly delighted in playing opera’s most infamous gypsy, especially when twirling around in the theater on the way back to my seat. Olé !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Casts and Credits:

Carmen ─ Georges Bizet (1875)
Live in HD air date: February 2, 2019

Cast:
Carmen ─ Clémentine Margaine
Don José ─ Roberto Alagna
Micaëla ─ Aleksandra Kurzak
Escamillo ─ Alexander Vinogradov

Credits:
Conductor ─ Louis Langrée
Production ─ Sir Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer ─ Rob Howell
Lighting Designer ─ Peter Mumford
Choreographer ─ Christopher Wheeldon
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Agrippina

The opera that catapulted Handel to stardom in 1709 certainly didn’t appear to possess any of the typical semblances of its Ancient Rome setting. TV news reporters, business suits, smartphones, and rather raunchy physical comedy could all be taken in during the Live in HD performance of Sir David McVicar’s staging of Agrippina.

So why did I decide to attend ? After all, I don’t like modern productions… or do I ?

A scene from Agrippina / Metropolitan Opera

A course taken on 18th-Century Opera from edX the previous summer softened my ossified resolve on the idea of attending a Baroque opera in a Y2K setting. It was worth a shot… and that shot was fired with poignant accuracy─ I laughed harder than I have ever laughed at any opera, nearly falling out of my seat on innumerable occasions ! The antics were well-timed, especially from Joyce DiDonato’s saucy Agrippina and her hellion son, Nerone, played to utmost perfection by a tattooed, skinny jean wearing, cocaine snorting Kate Lindsey in a trouser role.

Kate Lindsey as Nerone and Joyce DiDonato as Agrippina / Metropolitan Opera

As a scintillating counterpart to the opera’s R-rated comedy, the singing was sublime. With many scenes being accompanied only by the deft strings of maestro Harry Bicket’s harpsichord, the singers were exploited for their talent and technique alone, which was all the more appreciated after the insightful edX course.

The question remains to be asked: was the radical redux of the Met’s oldest opera in the repertoire worthy of my stalwart traditionalism ? Resoundingly, yes ! Call it sacrilege if you please, but if Agrippina had been staged in its original setting of the infancy of A.D. history, I think it would have been an absolute snoozefest ! Sorry, Handel.

Joyce DiDonato and Matthew Rose in Agrippina / Metropolitan Opera

Realizing the modern-dress style of the opera could very well lead into a fashionable sewing project, I envisioned a specific mode ─ an overall perceived attitude ─ for the styling of my outfit: Italian couture. Fittingly, Agrippina is centralized in Rome and while Ancient Rome is a completely different entity from the country of Italy in existence today, I still couldn’t resist aligning the two nations in my quest for haute couture.
Perusing pictures and watching video clips from previous renditions of the same McVicar production (extant since 2000), I chose to model my outfit after the Agrippina standing on the stairs in the picture below.

Sarah Connolly as Agrippina, circa 2009 / Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona

Up close, the blazer was not just one solid color; it was subtlety patterned in a diamond motif. Satin first popped into my mind until I spotted the perfect fabric, which arrived in one of my monthly swatch club mailers from Fabric Mart Fabrics.

Taking the plunge: Wool, Dry Clean Only, $20/yard… Agrippina pushed my boundaries in more ways than one !

To sew my very first blazer, I used a PDF pattern from Lekala. Although not without flaws, I learned in strides how coat construction comes together. Styled with a “business bun”, Whiting and Davis purse (my mother’s), cat eye sunglasses, and gobstopper pearls (thank you, Aunt Countess !), I was poised to take on the world in sleek, corporate couture fashion.

The classic, Chanel-esque cocktail dress, which employed pattern and alteration techniques from the Corset Academy, was the perfect base garment for my “cutthroat corporate” ideal. Here was my inspiration dress:

Circa 1995 Chanel silk slip dress / via 1stdibs.com

The ponte knit dress was customized with a mesh upper lining and built-in underwire bra…

Did I mention this was an Italian couture outfit ? Everything, from the damask weave crepe challis wool of the blazer to the black ponte knit of the cocktail dress, was sourced from Italy.

Even the gold shank button was from The Boot !

Italian couture and a ruthless Roman matriarch… a match made in heaven ? You be the judge ! The taste for high-end fashion and the delicious vocalities of Handel’s breakout opera left me as hungry as the titular Empress herself, salivating over her next scheme.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Agrippina ─ George Frideric Handel (1709)
Live in HD air date: February 29, 2020

Cast:
Agrippina ─ Joyce DiDonato
Nerone ─ Kate Lindsey
Poppea ─ Brenda Rae
Ottone ─ Iestyn Davies
Pallante ─ Ducan Rock
Claudio ─ Matthew Rose

Credits:
Conductor ─ Harry Bicket
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set and Costume Designer ─ John Macfarlane
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Andrew George
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt

Manon

The score of Manon is a sensual pleasure for the ears… It’s a pity that I wasn’t more enthused about opera from the get-go ! But after my repelling experience with Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in 2016, I was tepid to take on the French version of the same tale. However, I sought to give the Massenet piece a fair shake ─ and it’s a good thing I did !

Lisette Oropesa as Manon / Metropolitan Opera

With charms tantamount to a Cartier necklace, Lisette Oropesa and Michael Fabiano lit up the stage with their untamable chemistry. It flowed and never ebbed, even in spite Manon’s tastes for frivolous Parisian luxuries. I confess that the blush on my cheeks turned redder than beets during the smouldering peak of Manon and des Grieux’s passion… atop a battered bed in the open sanctuary of a church. Awkward.

Lisette Oropesa as Manon and Michael Fabiano as des Grieux / Metropolitan Opera

While the screen was seared by the heat of the lovers, I had my eye on the historical aspects of the opera, namely, the costumes.

Although Manon is originally set in the Parisian courts of the 18th century, the Met’s current Laurent Pelly production has switched the setting to the late 19th century, or “La Belle Époque” as it is called among fashion historians. While rich with possibilities for sumptuous gowns, the costumes for this particular production looked a tad… “polyester”… and were all over the place in terms of isolating a specific decade: I noticed armored cuirasse bodices and fluffy bustles ─ indicative of the 1880’s ─ to gored skirts and enormous feathered hats, synonymous to the early Edwardian period of the 1900’s. There were even contemporary gowns of no historical basis. The myriad of differing modes of dress spanning 30+ years made for a lack of continuity as well as identity in the production. Was it traditional ? Was it modern ? The answer remained obscure.

Lisette Oropesa in Manon / Metropolitan Opera

Knowing that Laurent Pelly productions are filled with whimsy and topsy-turvy lineages, I didn’t aim to directly copy any one single costume from the opera since I knew, in taking that tack, the possibilities for future wear would be slim to none.
Coming to the decision was tough, but I eventually opted to create an 1890’s ball gown inspired by the mauve, pink, and silver butterfly clip perched in my hair.

The puff sleeves were enormous and reminded me of spun cotton candy…

With lace hand sewn onto the bodice and front gores of the skirt, this costume had couture qualities about it.

Paris, here I come ! I remember walking (or waltzing ?) into the theater that sunny late October afternoon and observing the gentleman ticket taker rendered speechless as he approached the podium. While approbation is never my motivation, it’s always a pleasure to receive remarks about the enjoyment elicited in others and their gratitude for what the craft adds to the Live in HD simulcasts.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For more information on how I created my “pretty in pink” 1890’s ball gown from start to finish, check out my tutorial post: https://costumeclosetcouture.com/2020/04/21/the-making-of-manon-the-1890s-ball-gown/

Cast and Credits:

Manon ─ Jules Massenet (1884)
Live in HD air date: October 26, 2019

Cast:
Manon ─ Lisette Oropesa
Chevalier des Grieux ─ Michael Fabiano
Guillot de Morfontaine ─ Carlo Bosi
Lescaut ─ Arthur Ruciński
de Brétigny ─ Brett Polegato
Comte des Grieux ─ Kwangchul Youn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Laurent Pelly
Set Designer ─ Chantal Thomas
Costume Designer ─ Laurent Pelly
Lighting Designer ─ Joël Adam
Choreographer ─ Lionel Hoche
Associate Director ─ Christian Räth
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra