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

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

The Magic Flute

Mozart’s last opera also happens to be my favorite ─ similar to the way Puccini’s posthumous Turandot holds a dear place in my heart. In this abridged English adaptation of Die Zauberflöte, the German originator, the Met’s annual encore of The Magic Flute provides a holiday tradition that has become a classic on its own. Interestingly, The Magic Flute was the opera that spawned the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series in December 2006. Having known this for years, it’s always been on my to-do list to attend one of the yearly December rebroadcasts, not only for the singing and story, but for curiosity’s sake as well… “What was the first Live in HD performance like back then,” I’ve wondered.
Because of scheduling conflicts or the inevitable “Christmas burnout”, my intended trip to The Magic Flute has never occurred… until now !

Ying Huang as Pamina and René Pape as Sarastro in The Magic Flute / Metropolitan Opera

Was the experience worth the hype ? Absolutely ! Not only did I feel like I was witnessing history, but it was also notable to see how young singers, like Matthew Polenzani, have improved in their vocal skills since 2006. Even the video production format has evolved: no welcoming host to preview the opera behind the curtain, no intermission interviews with the singers (The Magic Flute has been shortened to exclude intermissions), and limited backstage peeks in the inaugural telecast. Goodness, how the movie theater audiences are spoiled nowadays…!

Matthew Polenzani as Tamino in The Magic Flute / Metropolitan Opera

One element that felt familiar was Julie Taymor’s extant production, filled with imaginative sets and costumes. Whether a fan of opera or not, the visual and textural stimulation of the mystical world manufactured by the same creator as The Lion King on Broadway is scintillating enough to hold the interest of the least enthused.

Nathan Gunn as Papageno in a scene from Julie Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute / Metropolitan Opera

Just as The Magic Flute is a seasonal tradition at the Met, so I wished for my attire to grasp that same nostalgic feel, but with some updated tweaks. With only a few days notice, I wanted to theme a “modern retro” look that would scream “Holiday !”

And so, I hurried to my closets…

The button waist yoke dress, an original 1980’s garment from my mother’s closet, was the perfect teal green color to set off the beautiful brooch and earring set that I bought at an estate sale recently. Also coincidentally coordinating was the red felt hat, bedecked with green, red, and brown speckled feathers. Because my dear “adopted” Grandma could no longer make use of the pillbox, she passed it on to me. My gratitude knows no bounds.

The black gloves are some of my favorites with the sheer ruffle alongside the wrist and side seams. And those red stilettos ? I adore them ! They’ve traipsed the floors of many operas: Traviata, Rosenkavalier, Traviata again, etc.

Most likely, you’re probably thinking that I look like I stepped straight out of the 1940’s, right ? “So what’s modern about this ‘modern retro’ outfit ?” you might ask… Frankly, the fishnets ! From the front they seem tame, but the backs are are another story with racy lace climbing up my calves and hamstrings. I doubt the women of yesteryear would have worn something so daring… unless your name happened to be Ava Gardner or Rita Hayworth.

Red and green were never lovelier together… Almost as lovely as Mozart and the Met at Christmastime.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

The Magic Flute ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)
Original Live in HD air date: December 30, 2006
(Encore seen December 7, 2019)

Cast:
Tamino ─ Matthew Polenzani
Pamina ─ Ying Huang
Papageno ─ Nathan Gunn
Sarastro ─ René Pape
Queen of the Night ─ Erika Miklósa
Speaker ─ David Pittsinger

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Julie Taymor
Set Designer ─ George Tsypin
Costume Designer ─ Julie Taymor
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Puppet Designers ─ Julie Taymor, Michael Curry
Choreographer ─ Mark Dendy
English Adaption ─ J.D. McClatchy
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson