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

Idomeneo

The brainchild of a 24-year-old Mozart in the spring of his career, Idomeneo embodies drama and torment on an intense scale. A Trojan captive bemoans her plight of wartime displacement. A runaway Grecian princess seethes with humiliation and jealousy from unrequited feelings. A father and king, crossed between the angry seas ─ and even angrier gods ─ suffers from the anguish of the cruel task that besets him.

A scene from Mozart’s Idomeneo / Metropolitan Opera

While the basis of the plot was heavy ─ the title king, after being saved by the gods during a disastrous storm at sea, must kill his own son as recompense ─ the music was quite the opposite. Comprised of a windswept coterie of strings and woodwinds, the score was typically Mozartian and showed the beginnings of his lauded career. Singing the trills of early Mozart was made to look easy as Matthew Polenzani gave a stirring performance as the king. His voice was unhampered, but his soul was not.

Matthew Polenzani singing an excerpt from “Fuor del mar” from Idomeneo / Metropolitan Opera

The women provided for some much needed romantic rivalry to break up the repetitious monotony of the staid opera seria format. It’s true─ the opera was far too longwinded and soporific for my withering patience as I reached my home well after 6 that evening. At least the textured costumes and the spastic mad scene provided ample attraction and distraction from my jadedness.

Loosely based on the lace and jewels of Elettra’s gown, I snagged a favorite from my mother’s closet and made a simple alteration. The bright blue dress, being 8 sizes too big for me, would have swamped my figure more than the devouring seas of Idomeneo. A simple fix, I ran a line of baste stitches up the back of the dress and, voilà ! The dress fit. My mother was horrified with my action, let me tell you, but I assured her the stitching could easily be removed as I promptly pulled out the threads after the opera was over and the pictures captured.

My headpiece was a borrowed transformation. Previously, the black glittered tiara sported red rhinestones along the top points and an attached piece of black lace.

Thank you, Aunt Countess !

First popping out the red rhinestones, I replaced them with standard white ones and added gold fan sequins for seaside flare. They coordinated with my dress and the mantilla was beautiful enough for a princess. In case you were wondering, I removed all the sequins and replaced the original red jewels before I returned the accessory to its rightful owner.

Isn’t that necklace fabulous ? It’s a Metropolitan Museum of Art (also affectionately nicknamed “the Met”) replica given to me as a present from Aunt Countess. I cherish gifts from travels afar, much like the shell necklace and pashmina shawl that I wore to The Pearl Fishers the previous year. While New York City isn’t as far-flung as ancient Crete, the necklace made a statement worthy of Elettra’s tempered fury and Mozart’s fledgling opera.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Idomeneo ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1781)
Live in HD air date: March 25, 2017

Cast:
Idomeneo ─ Matthew Polenzani
Idamante ─ Alice Coote
Ilia ─ Nadine Sierra
Elettra ─ Elza van den Heever
Arbace ─ Alan Opie

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Set and Costume Designer ─ Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Live in HD Director ─ Barbara Willis Sweete
Host ─ Eric Owens