Carmen

“Love is a rebellious bird that no one can tame… And if I love you, watch out !”

Act I ─ Carmen

Opera’s most notorious femme fatale finally sashayed her way into the theater after keeping me waiting for years. Truthfully, I have longed to see Carmen for two reasons. First, the bouncing music, which is both tuneful as well as recognizable, is an alluring draw to Bizet’s landmark opera. And then there’s Carmen herself, a meaty role for any mezzo-soprano. Clémentine Margaine, French by birth, slipped into the black dress for this Live in HD performance.

Clémentine Margaine as Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Gritty, but perfumed, Clémentine Margaine balance crude manners with beguiling charm. Watching her sent my mind into vacillations of resolve as to who she really was: a woman who looked attractive at first glance, but on further inspection was nothing more than a broad wearing lipstick and eyeliner. There was a hardness about her ─ an earthiness ─ that befit the role of the tempestuous gypsy well. This baseness was especially noticeable when compared to the sweet and singular Micaëla, played by Polish soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak, who also happens to be the real life wife of Roberto Alagna, the opera’s Don José !

Aleksandra Kurzak as Micaëla and Roberto Alagna as Don José in Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

While the songs were as exciting as I hoped they would be, I wouldn’t say that Carmen ranks as one of my favorite operas. It’s too long for a story that feels humdrum and predictable. From a personal standpoint, Bizet’s earlier work, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, was much more intriguing in terms of plot and outcome. Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to check Carmen off my list of must-see operas.

A scene from Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

Just as the singer who plays Carmen often relishes the chance to live vicariously through the role, so I also wanted to step into the clicking heels of a Spanish gypsy through my portrayal. Although Richard Eyre’s production is set in Seville during the 1930’s, I felt many of the costumes seemed pertinent to the present day and so I decided to model my look after the dancing ensemble worn by Carmen in Act II.

A scene from Act II of Carmen / Metropolitan Opera

A voluminous bell sleeve blouse and lace skirt swings in time to the rousing Gypsy Song while a black corset exemplifies Carmen’s signature seduction. Planning my version of the outfit was easy, especially when I thought of the coral colored crinkle skirt in my mother’s closet that would be perfect for the part. Marking the tiers with rows of beads, it was destined for bohemian couture. Two yards of Raschel lace, which I bought for a bargain during a Black Friday sale, were draped and pinned on the outside of the skirt like a sarong.

The lower half of the outfit complete, I moved onto the fun parts ─ the corset and the blouse !

Yes, I made a corset. It was easy with the patterns and instructions from the Corset Academy, which I use often when making structured garments. Shaping my figure, the corset was mostly hidden beneath the flouncy tie bottom blouse I sewed using the free wrap blouse pattern from Anke Herrmann’s website for Flamenco Dressmaking. Her advice and support were valuable as I altered the style slightly to suit my needs. Once I found a festive dot crepe fabric on closeout online, I was ready to sew my blouse.

Making the bell sleeves was not as difficult as I anticipated, especially using a circle skirt cutting layout. And I loved using the rolled hem setting on my BabyLock serger ! It made the edges of my bell sleeves frilly and polished.

“But what about your hair ? Is it real ?” Yes and no. Looking over past Met performance pictures, I knew I needed tightly curled locks to match that of the character’s and so I related my plight to my mother (also known as my hairstylist) whereupon she gauged that trying to curl my naturally soft and wavy hair was a futile effort. Ultimately, she suggested I find some hairpieces. Well, I did, but the entirety of that story is not fit for publication. It involved a shady shop on the wrong side of town and a man who tried to convince me that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Che Guevara. Fearful for my life ? Just a smidge.
Doing her best, my mother mingled my hair with the newly bought hairpieces to capture the Spanish vibe I was seeking.

Steeped in Sevillian style, I thoroughly delighted in playing opera’s most infamous gypsy, especially when twirling around in the theater on the way back to my seat. Olé !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Casts and Credits:

Carmen ─ Georges Bizet (1875)
Live in HD air date: February 2, 2019

Cast:
Carmen ─ Clémentine Margaine
Don José ─ Roberto Alagna
Micaëla ─ Aleksandra Kurzak
Escamillo ─ Alexander Vinogradov

Credits:
Conductor ─ Louis Langrée
Production ─ Sir Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer ─ Rob Howell
Lighting Designer ─ Peter Mumford
Choreographer ─ Christopher Wheeldon
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Manon

The score of Manon is a sensual pleasure for the ears… It’s a pity that I wasn’t more enthused about opera from the get-go ! But after my repelling experience with Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in 2016, I was tepid to take on the French version of the same tale. However, I sought to give the Massenet piece a fair shake ─ and it’s a good thing I did !

Lisette Oropesa as Manon / Metropolitan Opera

With charms tantamount to a Cartier necklace, Lisette Oropesa and Michael Fabiano lit up the stage with their untamable chemistry. It flowed and never ebbed, even in spite Manon’s tastes for frivolous Parisian luxuries. I confess that the blush on my cheeks turned redder than beets during the smouldering peak of Manon and des Grieux’s passion… atop a battered bed in the open sanctuary of a church. Awkward.

Lisette Oropesa as Manon and Michael Fabiano as des Grieux / Metropolitan Opera

While the screen was seared by the heat of the lovers, I had my eye on the historical aspects of the opera, namely, the costumes.

Although Manon is originally set in the Parisian courts of the 18th century, the Met’s current Laurent Pelly production has switched the setting to the late 19th century, or “La Belle Époque” as it is called among fashion historians. While rich with possibilities for sumptuous gowns, the costumes for this particular production looked a tad… “polyester”… and were all over the place in terms of isolating a specific decade: I noticed armored cuirasse bodices and fluffy bustles ─ indicative of the 1880’s ─ to gored skirts and enormous feathered hats, synonymous to the early Edwardian period of the 1900’s. There were even contemporary gowns of no historical basis. The myriad of differing modes of dress spanning 30+ years made for a lack of continuity as well as identity in the production. Was it traditional ? Was it modern ? The answer remained obscure.

Lisette Oropesa in Manon / Metropolitan Opera

Knowing that Laurent Pelly productions are filled with whimsy and topsy-turvy lineages, I didn’t aim to directly copy any one single costume from the opera since I knew, in taking that tack, the possibilities for future wear would be slim to none.
Coming to the decision was tough, but I eventually opted to create an 1890’s ball gown inspired by the mauve, pink, and silver butterfly clip perched in my hair.

The puff sleeves were enormous and reminded me of spun cotton candy…

With lace hand sewn onto the bodice and front gores of the skirt, this costume had couture qualities about it.

Paris, here I come ! I remember walking (or waltzing ?) into the theater that sunny late October afternoon and observing the gentleman ticket taker rendered speechless as he approached the podium. While approbation is never my motivation, it’s always a pleasure to receive remarks about the enjoyment elicited in others and their gratitude for what the craft adds to the Live in HD simulcasts.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For more information on how I created my “pretty in pink” 1890’s ball gown from start to finish, check out my tutorial post: https://costumeclosetcouture.com/2020/04/21/the-making-of-manon-the-1890s-ball-gown/

Cast and Credits:

Manon ─ Jules Massenet (1884)
Live in HD air date: October 26, 2019

Cast:
Manon ─ Lisette Oropesa
Chevalier des Grieux ─ Michael Fabiano
Guillot de Morfontaine ─ Carlo Bosi
Lescaut ─ Arthur Ruciński
de Brétigny ─ Brett Polegato
Comte des Grieux ─ Kwangchul Youn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Laurent Pelly
Set Designer ─ Chantal Thomas
Costume Designer ─ Laurent Pelly
Lighting Designer ─ Joël Adam
Choreographer ─ Lionel Hoche
Associate Director ─ Christian Räth
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra