Striped Seersucker Shirtdress

It may be apparent by now that I am an alliteration advocate. As much as I try to suppress my affection, there’s just something about starting a succession of words with the same alphabetical letter that tickles my fancy. Inadvertently, my new summer creation was an alliterative delight: a striped seersucker shirtdress !

Here’s how it began…

McCall’s 6891 Shirtdress

Originally purchasing this pattern to sew for a new Met production of Die Zauberflöte (which was subsequently canceled), it sat shelved, along with the yards of white chambray linen I bought for the project, without a hope except for the fact that I did very much like the pattern.

Nadine Sierra in Die Zauberflöte (Opéra National de Paris)

The idea of sewing a shirtdress never strayed too far from my mind, but it wasn’t until an issue of “Julie’s Picks” swatch club popped in the mail that the romanticized idea rose to the forefront as a planned reality. Could it have been a coincidence that the pattern suggestion for a dandy red stripe cream seersucker be none other than the McCall’s (reprinted as Butterick) shirtdress pattern I bought for the scrapped Met project ? Whether you believe in coincidences or not, I had my sign: I was making the dress !

“Julie’s Picks” July 2021 issue, Page 3

With this pattern being a Palmer and Pletsch design with extensive fitting instructions, I spent a good week perfecting the fit with the adjustment lines on the pattern tissue. My only substantial tweak was taking out ½ inch at the shoulder blade level to eliminate a gaping armhole in the back.

I wish there would have been more fitting tips besides the most common ones because I then needed to alter the sleeve pieces to compensate for the reduced armhole length. The attempt was in vain. As a result, my sleeve cap was gathered more than I had intentioned…

But, no matter !

The dress (a combination of Views C and D) turned out in tip top fashion and gave me the feel of a 1950’s waitress/housewife. I especially love the red “jelly” buttons that appear like hard candies on the peppermint stripe cotton.

I loved nearly everything about this dress: the American made fabric, the fit, the retro vibe, the color scheme… the list goes on. And while it wasn’t imperative that its descriptors start with the same letter, the fact that my striped seersucker shirtdress was an alliterative creation was just the icing on the cake.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Wagnerians in Concert

Over the years, I have found that the more I am exposed to Wagner, the more I love it. It’s complex, lush, and completely absorbing if given the right circumstances. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who harbors a cultish hankering for Wagnerian music. And so, off to Chris’s we go for another Met Stars Live in Concert series !

Broadcast live from the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany, the grand foyer proved to be one of the most gorgeous settings for a concert with the lighting shifting to fit the mood of each song. Although the program was not entirely Wagnerian (a thimbleful of R. Strauss was thrown into the mix), the quartet of Elza van den Heever, Christine Goerke, Andreas Schager, and Michael Volle made the most of the arias and duets… and the staircases ! There was a choreographed sequence of how the singers would enter and exit to avoid cutting into the next performance all while capitalizing on the thespian potential of the Neo-Baroque architecture.

The Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany

The greatest (and most accurate) of these tableaux came during the penultimate number with Elza van den Heever and Christine Goerke acting out the duet from Act II of Lohengrin, complete with balcony betrayal. Juicy !

The Cuisine

Our afterparty fare was a European hodgepodge of Gruyère and Bleu, open faced canapés, sauerkraut salad (similar to Korean kimchi), Riesling, and… banana bread. Well, it was almost European.

The recipe for the banana bread is an adapted version of Cookie and Kate’s Whole Wheat Banana Bread with maple syrup as the sweetener (and butter in place of the oil). For years it has been one of my go-to staples for a “No White Flour, No White Sugar” treat. Thanks, Kate !

The Clothes

In thinking of a Wagnerian-inspired outfit, several elements came to mind:
1) Medieval gowns with long, wide sleeves
2) Knights in chainmail
3) Leather, lots of leather

Each of these characteristics can usually be observed during a typical Wagnerian opera. However, I wanted to create a more modern look and sought to avoid the following fashion pitfalls insomuch as looking like a:
1) Gothic punk
2) Biker
3) Cosplayer

A challenge, indeed. Leaving the angel sleeves behind, the rest of my outfit gave me just the right combination of Wagnerian features with a completely modern appeal.

The outfit and the concert were a terrific celebration and reminder of why I enjoy Wagner so much: drama and beauty intertwined as the complete work of art.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

How exactly did I create my sequin tunic ? The answers can be found in my accompanying tutorial post: http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2021/05/29/sequin-mail-drafting-a-cowl-neck-chainmail-tunic/

Cast and Credits

Wagnerians in Concert
Hessisches Staatstheater
Wiesbaden, Germany
Live broadcast date: May 8, 2021
(Date seen: May 20, 2021)

Elza van den Heever ─ soprano
Christine Goerke ─ soprano
Andreas Schager ─ tenor
Michael Volle ─ bass-baritone
Craig Terry ─ piano

Welsh Winter: Bryn Terfel Live in Concert

Listening to Bryn Terfel is like stepping into a vast, storied library: you’re not entirely sure what you will discover, but you undoubtedly know it will be a rich experience full of wonder and abundant surprises. In an ode to the Christmas season, my friends and I gathered to watch Bryn and an assembly of varied musicians perform a concert entirely composed of Christmas carols from the Brecon Cathedral in Wales.

Natalya Romaniw, Bryn Terfel, and Trystan Llŷr Griffiths performing at Brecon Cathedral in Wales / Metropolitan Opera

Traditional and contemporary alike, the carols were sung with joy and charisma. Bryn’s infectious charm and playful personality twinkled like the stars in the night sky while his generosity was clearly evident: invited to perform with Bryn were two young Welsh singers along with the eclectic folk group, Calan. Joined by the talents of pianist Jeffery Howard and harpist (and Bryn’s wife) Hannah Stone, the gang delivered a program full of spirit and hope; my favorites included the multilingual “Still, Still, Still”, Ivor Novello’s “I Can Give You Starlight”, and the harmonious “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to close the concert.

Bryn Terfel performing “I Can Give You Starlight” / Metropolitan Opera

The Cuisine

Our food was partly a throwback to previous concert gatherings─ with an assortment of cheese and charcuterie, I almost felt like I was back at the Jonas Kaufmann concert in July…

Anne’s exquisite cheese platter

…and Jayne’s sparkling rosé was also poured during our French Riviera fête in August…

But the Welsh addition came in the form of Chris’s Pwdin Eva, a kind of apple cobbler…

The food was tastefully presented and shared by musically minded friends. Cheers !

The Clothes

When I think of Wales, my mind is drawn to craggy coasts and rugged landscapes dotted with sheep and sturdy kinfolk, both equipped to survive the battered climates of Great Britain. Although the skies are often painted a dreary gray, the bright red dragon atop the green and white striped national flag belies any sort of unpleasant regional weather.

Flag of Wales

This dragon, known as the “Draig Goch” in Wales, was the inspiration for my outfit. Who would have thought that a web search inquiry for Welsh fabric companies would lead me to some of the cheeriest fabric I’ve ever sewn ? When I landed on the page for a stamped organic cotton, I knew I had found my fabric. But what to make ?

With the winter weather in Florida being much milder than the northern latitudes of wet Wales, I erred on the side of conservative warmth and practicality. A pleated skirt paired with dark leather boots seemed like the perfect storm…
Carbon Chic’s tutorial was a helpful starting point for my knife pleated skirt, but I couldn’t make the numbers work. So, I freehandedly began pleating away in 2 inch increments, starting at the right side seam (with pocket) and moving left towards the second side seam. A zipper and button closure were installed at the back.

Paired with my mother’s classic red turtleneck and riding boots, I was pleased with my “up country” look.

(Psst ! Remember when these same boots marched off to La Fille du Régiment ?)

In a way, I felt my clothes emulated a schoolgirl, arms saddled with books, on her way to the library. And that library, wondrous and enchanting, was an afternoon in Wales with Bryn Terfel.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Bryn Terfel and Friends
Brecon Cathedral
Brecon, Wales
Live broadcast date: December 12, 2020
(Date seen: December 19, 2020)

Bryn Terfel ─ bass-baritone
Natalya Romaniw ─ soprano
Trystan Llŷr Griffiths ─ tenor
Jeffery Howard ─ piano
Hannah Stone ─ harp
Calan

Met Stars Live in Concert: Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja

“Viva Italia !” my friends and I exclaimed when we heard that the location of the upcoming concert for Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja had been moved from exotic seaside Malta to the Palazzo Reale in Caserta, Italy. On record as the world’s largest royal residence, the grand venue was ideal for the cinematic transmission of the latest Met Stars Live in Concert series.

The Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy

The combination of Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja was a bit odd, especially when considering their “polar opposites” repertoire. The normally floating trills of the German soprano felt strained during the heavy Tosca numbers (“Vissi d’arte” was downright painful), which were salvaged by the charming apropos acting in a literal libretto location.

Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja singing excerpts from Tosca in the Met Stars Live in Concert series

Calleja’s hearty voice squelched Damrau’s on more than one occasion, but most notably during the finale duet of “Ave Maria” where they each took turns with versed lines. In the past, I have always enjoyed Diana Damrau due to her ability to make me feel her characters with a voice of sweetly scented femininity. However, it was during this last selection that I wished she would just stand silent and let Calleja fill the cavernous chapel with his rich tone.

Joseph Calleja and Diana Damrau singing “Ave Maria” / Metropolitan Opera

The best part about the concert was guessing which wrap Diana would wear next ! For each musical number, she would emerge from the wings of the palace chapel with a new accessory to play off her strapless black velvet gown.

Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja in the Met Stars Live in Concert series from Caserta, Italy

The Cuisine

Let’s talk about the food ! While we all struggled with the idea of Maltese cuisine (rabbit, anyone ?), the Italian switcheroo rendered the culinary preparation a breeze. Since the palace in Caserta was part of the Campania region (think Naples), Chris volunteered to make Neapolitan meatballs…

…and I was assigned the classic Caprese salad.

Anne brought the antipasti platter…

…and Jayne provided the Prosecco !

Our feast was complete… and delicious, too. We cleaned our plates !

The Clothes

When I first saw this concert on the lineup, I knew EXACTLY what I would wear, even after the location change. Years ago, I remembering thumbing through a catalog for Soft Surroundings and “oohing” and “ahhing” at the vibrant colors and relaxed refinery of the clothes. One dress, although simple, always jumped out at me along with the styling of the photo:

Santiago Boatneck Dress / Soft Surroundings

Something about the floor length knit dress in the earthy colors with the rustic jewelry just seemed so casually elegant. Coincidentally, I had several long necklaces that would look perfect with the dress. But when I checked the Soft Surroundings website, it appeared the boatneck style of dress had been discontinued. Even though I wanted to make my own dress, it would have been helpful to have more detailed pictures of what the website could offer. Nevertheless, I searched for knit maxi dress patterns and found a promising one from Hallå Patterns.

Agnes knit dress from Hallå Patterns

With a “just right” paprika colored French Terry knit, which was found in my October 2020 edition of Julie’s Picks swatch club, I sewed the pattern with the one tweak of lengthening the hem by 1½ inches, just in case. It was a perfect adjustment, but I do believe I would have allowed more width in the shoulders.

The dress was just what I desired ─ fall color, Old World jewelry, and casual stateliness for my imagined Neapolitan holiday. Best of all, I didn’t have to pay upwards of $100 ! It was a win-win-win !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja
Cappella Palatina of the Royal Palace of Caserta
Caserta, Italy
Live broadcast date: October 24, 2020

Diana Damrau ─ soprano
Joseph Calleja ─ tenor
Roberto Moreschi ─ piano

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

Rolling on the Riviera ─ Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna in Concert

“The dynamic husband-and-wife duo of tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak give a concert of arias and duets, accompanied by string quintet, from an outdoor terrace in Èze, France, with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean.”

Two for the price of one ? A string quintet ? A château on the French Riviera ? Count me in ! If the description for the third installment of the Met Stars Live in Concert initiative wasn’t appealing already, the set list for Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna’s concert was the icing on the cake. Favorites from Puccini and Verdi seamlessly mixed with adorable folk songs from Mexico and Italy, all richly accompanied by the Vienna Morphing Quintet. Below is an abbreviated video of highlights from the concert:

Aside from being a technical feat, the vistas overlooking the pelagic Mediterranean Sea were arresting. Several times during the concert, I found my eyes floating over the floral garlanded railing to espy sleek motor yachts and nearby barrier islands as Aleksandra and Roberto charmed me with their singing and effortless chemistry. Their intuitive camaraderie led to dynamic and touching duets, which also included an overflowing dose of mirth. In what is rapidly becoming the duo’s calling card, the hilarious “love potion” duet from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore involved a clever prop and crafty English ad libs ─ I was rollicking with laughter watching the two perform !

Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna singing “Caro Elisir” from L’Elisir d’Amore in concert / Metropolitan Opera

There were more serious moments as well with Aleksandra singing Desdemona’s “Ave Maria” followed by a melting rendition of the love duet from Otello, in which the darkening sky serendipitously played a role in one of the final lines. Singing “The Pleiades are low in the heavens”, the pair turned to face the azure sky and motioned to the stars just as they were beginning to illuminate. Chills !!!!

Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna singing the love duet from Otello in concert

The Cuisine

The concert locale, above all else, provided the best (and most straightforward) watch party theme: Rolling on the Riviera. Provence, with its uniqueness of sights and senses was the central inspiration behind our small gathering at Chris’s home. Each of us chipped in to make the get-together unforgettable. Jayne knew of a terrific French sparkling rosé wine while I was elated to try out Ina Garten’s Provençal Potato Salad, which was chocked full of Provençal ingredients: black olives, capers, haricot verts, cherry tomatoes, scallions, red onion, lots of fresh herbs, flaked tuna, hard cooked eggs, and anchovies. The freshness was equivalent to lounging on a sun-soaked beach chair with the sea mist brushing across your face. In the words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be ?” The salad is so gorgeous that it was featured as the cover image on the original Barefoot Contessa cookbook from 1999.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Jayne’s sparkling rosé

I highly recommend the wine and the niçoise-inspired potato salad for an instant summer getaway.

Anne sure knows how to arrange a cheese platter ! Roquefort, Boursin, and Brie, oh my ! And of course, my favorite prosciutto…

Even Chris, our gracious hostess, made blackberry sorbet to be accompanied with chocolate covered French cookies. Bon appétit !

The Clothes

Imagine partaking in a leisurely promenade along one of the coastal towns of the Riviera… what would you wear ? For me, the answer was obvious: beach pajamas !

Made popular in the 1930’s, beach pajamas (or pyjamas) were all the rage on the Riviera where the rich and famous would rendezvous. Women would wear flowy fabrics with grace, oftentimes to dressier occasions spanning into the evening hour. Casual and comfortable, while still oh-so chic, I knew I wanted to sew a set of these beloved beach clothes.

Seeking a two piece style, I contemplated designing my own set until I came across a FREE pattern online from Gertie’s Charm Patterns brand. With a complete sew-a-long tutorial on YouTube showing the details of making the pajamas, the pattern was just right for my needs. With this being my very first “Gertie” pattern, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found that the pattern was accurately sized with differing cup sizes for an even better fit.

Using a soft rayon challis I bought in June from Julie’s Picks swatch club mailer, I paired it with an equally sumptuous berry-colored material from Fabric Mart’s gorgeous selection of rayon/nylon shimmer satins. Softness and style united as one.

I loved wearing my 1930’s beach pajamas to what transpired as a joyous afternoon in Provence. From the cliffs of Èze to the rolling hills of central Florida, the pleasures of the French Riviera were abundant ─ an uplifting concert, delicious food, and lively conversation… what could be finer ?

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Met Stars Live in Concert: Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna
Château de la Chèvre d’Or
Èze, France
Live broadcast date: August 16, 2020
(Date seen: August 20, 2020)

Aleksandra Kurzak ─ soprano
Roberto Alagna ─ tenor

Vienna Morphing Quintet