Fedora, Princess Fedora

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

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

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

A scene from Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Not bad !

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

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

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

Cast:

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

Credits:

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

La Traviata: The Real Violetta

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

Nadine Sierra as Violetta / Metropolitan Opera

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

Nadine Sierra and Stephen Costello in La Traviata / Metropolitan Opera

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

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

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

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

A gown from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Rosemary !

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

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

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

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

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

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

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

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

Concept

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

Sondra Radvanovsky as Medea / Metropolitan Opera

Matthew Polenzani and Sondra Radvanovsky in Medea / Metropolitan Opera

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

Anar Trellis Serpentine in Crimson / Zoffany

Execution

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

The Cotswold Manor Collection from Zoffany

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

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

Agustina Boxy Top Pattern / Fabrics-store.com

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

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

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

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

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha