Rusalka

Dvořák’s opera of a water nymph who desires to be human should be familiar territory to anyone who has read or seen “The Little Mermaid” in any of its contexts. Whether it be the Hans Christian Andersen tale or Disney’s beloved movie, “The Little Mermaid” has had an endearing effect on the public. As someone who grew up watching the Disney film and reading Andersen, Rusalka was a must-see for me during the 2016-2017 Live in HD season. It was now time for the Czech composer to shine in the thalassic classic.

This was a new production for the Met and Mary Zimmerman’s designs were brought to life with forest fauna and frothing watering holes…

The forest sprites in Rusalka / Metropolitan Opera

This was fitting, but the glaring garishness of the palace where the prince lived was (intentionally) off-putting. Even Rusalka was ready to hightail it back to her pond !

Kristine Opolais (center) in a scene from Act II of Rusalka / Metropolitan Opera

An attractive draw to this performance was the casting of Kristine Opolais as the title character. As an actress, she’s evocative and affecting, yet her voice doesn’t tend to coat my ears in richness. However, my auditory senses were deliciously rewarded when Jamie Barton took the stage as Ježibaba, the cackling, steampunk-esque witch. She stole the show !

Kristine Opolais as Rusalka and Jamie Barton as Ježibaba / Metropolitan Opera

Yes, I was eager to attend Rusalka. Even more, I was excited to create a costume for the opera. With the scene set as the rivers and lakes amidst a cool forest, I played around with the thought of building a transitional outfit that started as “water” and gradually turned into a “land” ─ like an ecological ombré effect. Skirts and scarves in blues and greens would resemble the water and an Easter bonnet made of paper plates would have been a crafty representation of the flora above. Here’s my Easter bonnet from years ago:

Remember this, Aunt Countess ?

But no ─ I couldn’t wear my flamboyant fascinator to the theater and cause the folks behind me to become utterly enraged. Farewell to the forest ! Returning to the water theme, a backstage video from the Met threw me a helpful costuming clue…

Rusalka costume discussion / Metropolitan Opera

Just as in the Met costume shop, I fashioned my own lilies for my skirts of “water”… except my lilies were not silk… they were coffee filters !

A stack of basic white coffee filters were snipped and twisted to create fanned water lilies with pale yellow stamens reaching forth. Atop my head was a lily pad, which was a crocheted doily I made for my mother years ago. And the crochet lace halter top ? I bought it at a consignment store. My outfit cost me next to nothing and was a worthy copycat of Kristine Opolais’s Act I gown.

Kristine Opolais in Act I of Rusalka / Metropolitan Opera

In “The Little Mermaid” as well as Rusalka, the price for becoming a human being is the seeker’s own voice and immortality. And while the ending in the opera was not a “happily ever after” scenario, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result of my costume ─ all the fun of a water nymph for the day with no remote danger of losing my voice or life.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rusalka ─ Antonín Dvořák (1901)
Live in HD air date: February 25, 2017

Cast:
Rusalka ─ Kristine Opolais
The Prince ─ Brandon Jovanovich
Ježibaba ─ Jamie Barton
The Foreign Princess ─ Katarina Dalayman
Vodník, the Water Gnome ─ Eric Owens

Credits:
Conductor ─ Sir Mark Elder
Production ─ Mary Zimmerman
Set Designer ─ Daniel Ostling
Costume Designer ─ Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting Designer ─ T.J. Gerckens
Choreographer ─ Austin McCormick
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani

Roberto Devereux

From the sextet of wives belonging the brutishly fickle Henry VIII to the bloody tug-of-war between Catholicism and Protestantism, the Tudor period in history is a meaty bone of tumult and fascination. The drama of the time must have captured Donizetti’s mind as well: his trilogy of Tudor operas is a tour-de-force for singers and a favorite haunt for acting potential. And so, here I was, at the finale of my first opera season, with the opportunity to see a spectacle of costumes and make-up prowess.

Sondra Radvanovsky in a promotional photo for Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera

The buzz around this performance of Roberto Devereux was Sondra Radvanovsky’s daring run at the Tudor Triple Crown ─ she performed all three of the Donizetti Tudor queens in one season to riotous acclaim. However, I found more appeal in the light Italian strings of the overture than the flapping voice of Radvanovsky. Furthermore, the duets and trios were the hallmark in this opera, especially with the creamy-toned Elīna Garanča and the drama surrounding her character (caught between her husband and her forbidden love for the Queen’s favorite suitor).

More than anticipated, the make-up was sensational, undoubtedly its very best on Sondra Radvanovsky’s aged Elizabeth. The perfectly coiffed paprika peruke was doffed at the opera’s end to reveal a withering white fray of “natural” hair that was a remarkable feat of theatrical trickery.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera

Moving onto the costumes, I knew this opera would feature extremely intricate pieces that were beyond my scope of sewing skills. I did, after all, just teach myself to sew almost 6 weeks earlier for when I needed an outfit for Madame Butterfly. What was I to do ? An offhanded observation of Tudor portraits easily pointed out the garment of ubiquity, the ruff. Oh, yes, I MUST have a ruff, but a different kind of ruff… “Tudor Couture on the Cheap !”

Something that was crafty and unique was in order and the first thing I wanted to tweak was the color of the ruff. Instead of a glaring white starched collar, I imagined a more earthy accessory to compliment the neutral colors of the outfit I had planned to wear. Configuring the ruff was crucial: who would want to wear an all encompassing collar, especially when sitting in one of the high backed chairs of the theater ? No, that wouldn’t do. Rather, I opted for an open ruff, one that swooped around the back neckline and left the chest exposed.

Much better.

Now for the construction… Since sewing was out of the question, I devised a plan to use a large cardboard pizza round and cut away part of the front for the neck and chest opening, which worked well. But the most extraordinary feature of the ruff was the actual “ruffle” material: unbleached coffee filters ! With their curly edges and cost effective efficiency, the coffee filters were perfect when artfully folded and glued onto the pizza round. Both the top and bottom of the cardboard round were layered with the filters and attached using hot glue. All that was left was to glue two inward facing clothespins to the undersides of the ruff near the front points and I now had an accessory worthy of the Tudors.

Alas, I misjudged the back protrusion ─ throughout the day in the theater, I was forced to sit with my head bent downward and forward because of the ruff’s extended back edge. By the curtain call, I had a crick in my neck.

With my first opera season in the books, I unclipped the paper ruff and admired its beauty and ingenuity… but not its discomfort.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Roberto Devereux ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1837)
Live in HD air date: April 16, 2016

Cast:
Queen Elizabeth ─ Sondra Radvonovsky
Roberto Devereux ─ Matthew Polenzani
Sara, Duchess of Nottingham ─ Elīna Garanča
Duke of Nottingham ─ Mariusz Kwiecien

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Sir David McVicar
Costume Designer ─ Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt