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

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

Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Set in a modern day Ceylon, the Met’s new revival of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles was a delightfully exotic romance of uncharacteristic story standards. Penny Woolcock’s production perfectly mingled the secular with the sacred, the grime with the gilt, and enchanted me from start to finish.
The shanty fishing village with its rickety cardboard and tin hovels added a realistic element to the production as did the mix of costumes on the chorus members: while some were dressed in filthy baseball caps and torn overshirts, others bedecked themselves in saris and turbans, just as Southeast Asian tradition dictates.

A scene from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles / Metropolitan Opera

This opera was a beautiful escape from start to finish. The music perfumed the theater and left a trailing scent as the curtain descended. I especially loved the enchanting tenor/baritone duet, “Au fond du temple saint”.

Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien sing an excerpt from “Au fond du temple saint” / Metropolitan Opera

While the romance of The Pearl Fishers may have started as a typical opera love triangle, the ending was anything but conventional: the man who kept his promise and was faithful to his honor lost everything and the traitorous one, escaping death with the defiled priestess, made out like a bandit. All elements combined, I loved this opera so much that I went to see the encore showing the following Wednesday.

Diana Damrau as Leïla in Les Pêcheurs de Perles / Metropolitan Opera

My outfit is one crafted from my closet. Modeling in front of my bedroom mirror, I experimented with different scarves and skirts to come up with an Indian subcontinent look.
Layer upon layer the outfit built itself into a makeshift “sari” that was instantly recognizable by its onlookers. (Weeks after The Pearl Fishers encore, I once again stepped into the far off theater location for the encore showing of Turandot. There I was greeted with inquisitive queries from strangers of vague familiarity: “Were you the one dressed as the Indian the last time ?”)

Of course, I knew I needed to accessorize with gobs of pearls in every shape and size, but also rings of topaz and bangles of gold. The crowning touch was my matha patti headpiece, which was reworked from a cheap, broken necklace.

I think my favorite aspects of this outfit are the ones that came from far away lands ─ the teal and aqua fringed pashmina wrap was bartered at a local market in Afghanistan while the cowrie shell necklace traveled from Tanzania (thank you, Uncle Kim, for the precious gifts !). Just think ─ the shells around my neck came from the Indian Ocean, just like the pearls in the opera !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Les Pêcheurs de Perles ─ Georges Bizet (1863)
Live in HD air date: January 16, 2016

Cast:
Leïla ─ Diana Damrau
Nadir ─ Matthew Polenzani
Zurga ─ Mariusz Kwiecien
Nourabad ─ Nicolas Testé

Credits:
Conductor ─ Gianandrea Noseda
Production ─ Penny Woolcock
Set Designer ─ David Bird
Costume Designer ─ Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer ─ Jen Schriever
Projection Design ─ Fifty Nine Productions
Live in HD Director ─ Matthew Diamond
Host ─ Patricia Racette