The singers, who were at the top of their game, gave a performance that was as riveting as it was raw. Never once did I espy a break from character and the visual display of the revved up orchestra was a treat on its own. While each participant was exceptional, the real sparkler was Lise Davidsen. By the end of the final duet, my friends and I erupted into living room applause with an uncontrollable flood of “Brava !” And who said opera was boring ?
A summer concert called for summer fare and I knew of the perfect dish: Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad ! Years ago, my mother would make this recipe and add corn kernels to increase the color, texture, and flavor. The salad’s fresh ingredients are the key: avocadoes, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onion, and black beans all tossed in a zingy lime marinade. “How bad can that be ?“
Chris added to the table a plate of select cheeses and fruit and we all dove in with chips and crackers to our summer repast.
Of course, we couldn’t do without our sip of champagne…
Thinking of a classical music concert brought to mind the solid black attire worn by the orchestra. It’s traditional and very sophisticated. As it so happened, I knew just what I would wear and didn’t have to go any farther than my mother’s closet.
While the dress is beautiful and classy on its own, there’s a greater story behind its black crepe and cutout detail. In 1986, my mother wore this same dress to a Christmas party at a Country Club and for as long as I can remember the photo from the occasion has graced our walls.
It’s clear that my mother’s Christmas dress from the 80’s has stood the test of time. So has Wagnerian opera… and Jonas Kaufmann ! And if the performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper was any indication of future success, Lise Davidsen should be joining the ranks, after a storied career, as one of the great Wagnerians in history.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Die Walküre (Act I) concert production Richard Wagner Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Germany Live broadcast date: May 13, 2021 (Date seen: June 14, 2021)
Asher Fisch ─ Conductor
Lise Davidsen ─ Sieglinde Jonas Kaufmann ─ Siegmund Georg Zeppenfeld ─ Hunding
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 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 !
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 !
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.
“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.
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 !
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.”
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.
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.
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…
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 !
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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 !
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:
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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.
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,
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)
“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 !
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 !!!!
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.
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 !
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,
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
Is there anyone who doesn’t love Jonas Kaufmann ? He’s handsome, personable, full of charisma, and one of the greatest tenors to date. When it was announced that Jonas would be headlining the Met’s new concert initiative, how could I resist the opportunity to see the spectacular tenor perform ? For the cost of $20, one could be treated to an intimate and breathtaking performance with the craveable comforts of home. It was to my delight when my dear friend, Chris, invited me over to view the event on her mega screen TV, fully equipped with augmented surround sound.
Broadcast live from the historic Polling Abbey in the tenor’s native region of Bavaria, the recital was stunning, as was the sacred setting. With songs ranging from popular Puccini favorites to more obscure operatic selections (like Ponchielli), Kaufmann dazzled with his attention to vocal detail and tempered interpretation of the music. Particularly moving was piano accompanist Helmut Deutsch’s rendition of the Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut and the engaging aria “Un dì all’azzuro spazio” from Andrea Chénier. Of course, my favorite has been and will always be “Nessun dorma”, which never ceases to thrill me.
If I could have changed anything about the format of the concert, I would have preferred to have heard more songs and less “filler” that was injected into the program after every couple of numbers ─ it’s not difficult to find and watch snippets of Jonas’s past Met Opera performances on YouTube ! Personally, it would have been more meaningful to me if there had been a series of short, sit down interviews with Kaufmann and Deutsch that had been previously recorded specifically for this concert, giving insight into the songs, the challenges (if any) of performing without an audience, etc. This addition would have made the pay-per-view price well worth the cost in terms of value.
Given the opportunity to dress up, I will take it ! And since I was going to attend a concert for the esteemed Jonas Kaufmann, why shouldn’t I look my best ? Nothing in my closets tickled my fancy and I was coincidentally distraught that a lining material I had ordered for another project was regrettably unusable for its purpose. However, I had an idea. Instead of hording the unfit fabric in a closet for years, crossing my fingers that I would eventually find a use for it at some indeterminable point down the road, I decided to make a “mock-up” dress of the untested pattern for which I originally bought the too-bright lining material.
Pressed for time, I completed the dress in a weekend. Although there were minor fitting issues with the pattern, I was pleased with the final result ! Styled in classy and chic fashion, I paired my new ruched dress with monochromatic stockings and heels and accented the look with gold jewelry. Don’t be deceived by the pictures─ neither the purple material nor the vanda orchid are nearly as blue toned as in the photos.
A new dress for the event was only the start. Chris planned to serve wine and cheese for the gathering and I wanted to bring some “themed” food for the festivities. Since Kaufmann is from Bavaria and the concert was taking place in Bavaria, what better dessert to bring than my great-grandmother’s beloved Bavarian Apple Torte ?
Shingled with sliced almonds to shelter the cinnamon apples and cream cheese filling cohabiting beneath, the torte was a hit ! Another supplement of mine, a chilled bottle of Riesling wine which had been awaiting its moment of glory for many years in the refrigerator, was supple and sweet.
The sliced salami, prosciutto, and capicola were right up my alley ! I’ll never reject dry-aged salted meats !
All that was needed was a smattering of brie on a tangy sourdough rye cracker…
…and the sharing of laughter among friends. Who said classical music was stuffy ? Take me at my word: when Jonas Kaufmann is the subject of conversation and critique, there’s plenty to discuss !
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits
Met Stars Live in Concert: Jonas Kaufmann Polling Abbey Polling, Bavaria Live broadcast date: July 18, 2020 (Date seen: July 27, 2020)