My Halloween Costumes From Years Past

Long before I ever started dressing up in costume for the operas, I spent much of my Septembers and Octobers surreptitiously slaving away in my small bedroom on my Halloween costume for the year. Unsurprisingly, Halloween is my favorite holiday ─ not because of witches and ghouls and black and orange décor, but simply because I have always loved dressing up.

In the spirit of the season, I thought I would share some of my past outfits.

Before learning to sew on a machine, I had to rely on tape, garbage bags, and old sheets to create costumes. In 2013, newspaper was my material of choice…

I went as “Old News” ─ quite literally since all the newspaper used was out of date before the 31st dawned. This costume was well worn: in all, I slipped on the tiered skirt and laced up the “corset” bodice 7-8 times during the season. Thankfully, it never rained.

I love history. It’s an engaging escape for my antiquarian imagination. I also love to learn about the famous (and infamous) characters in history. Not knowing exactly what inspired it, I chose to be Marie Antoinette in 2014. The peruke and panniers were a crafting feat; both were constructed from plastic grocery bags and toilet paper rolls, but that’s where the similarities ended. Long stretches of white cotton were carefully hot glued to the cardboard “curlers” of the wig and then given a misting of watered gray paint. I crocheted the hairy tendrils.
For years I kept the safety pinned skirt of tulle and sheets in a desolate drawer… until I realized that I was never going to wear flimsy cardboard panniers again and my mother wanted her sheets back. “Let them eat cake !”

In the same month that I was introduced to my first opera, my family went on a cruise ! Who would have thought that that cruise would wipe out 2½ months of social activities ? Yes, I came down with a horrible illness during the tail end of the trip that caused me to miss Tannhäuser in HD and Halloween 2015…

Emerald Princess docked in Cozumel

With a new love came a new passion as I taught myself to sew for Madama Butterfly in 2016.

I promise, my hair wasn’t so much a knotted mess when I actually went trick-or-treating…

It’s always great when an opera outfit seamlessly doubles as a Halloween costume. My Queen of the Night getup from Die Zauberflöte was a timely hit…

…as was my Egyptian costume from Aida ! Not only was this costume commenced and completed in under a month, but it was also worn within an hour of arriving home from the matinee encore performance of La Fanciulla del West.

A Gold Rush Girl by day, Cleopatra’s doppelgänger by night… it was a whirlwind Halloween.

Brünnhilde the Valkyrie… Is there anything spookier than a mythical being whose primary purpose is to decide who lives and dies in battle and gathers up the fallen heroes to haul them to Valhalla ???

And just in case you’re wondering, I left my axe at home for the evening…

In all my years of dressing up, I don’t think I ever disguised myself as a princess; maybe a witch in a long, black gown or Miss America, but never a princess. The plush pink 1890’s ball gown from Manon was my outlet for elegance and grace, living out every little girl’s fantasy.

Clearly my long-time love of dressing up has played a starring role in my life. The only question left is… what will I wear this Halloween ?

Happy Halloween !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Eugene Onegin

Prior to the latter months of 2015, a Russian opera wouldn’t have turned my head. Ha ! How uniquely situations can change… As an autodidact of the Russian language, I was so excited to see Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and even more enthused to witness another performance by Anna Netrebko, half of the reason I began learning Russian in the first place.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

This was to be a reunion of sorts ─ three of the singers whom I first saw in Il Trovatore in 2015 (Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Štefan Kocán) were scheduled for Onegin, but sadly, circumstances beyond the control of human capacity altered these best forged plans. With Dmitri Hvorostovsky bowing out due to advancing brain cancer, Peter Mattei stepped into the shoes of the snobbish title cad.

Štefan Kocán as Prince Gremin and Peter Mattei as Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

Strangely, the entire cast was Slavic except the Swedish Mattei, who felt so much like an outsider because of it ! I don’t know if it was his non-native tongue, his towering stature, or his graying goatee, but there was an obvious distinction between him and his fellow cast members. Even in spite of the casting swap, I delighted in listening to the Russian words in hopes of recognizing a few. Surprisingly, I was able to distinguish brief passages of verses, which thrilled my scholarly applications. My broad smile was impenetrable.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and Peter Mattei as Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

For an operation that was almost purely Russian, an equally felicitous outfit was required. I knew I was going to wear my long black velvet dress, but what else ? A sleek, matching velvet stole factored into my plans of a stereotypical Russian oligarch look of winter temperaments. But the stole was dismissed in favor of the serendipity thrown my way: “I’ve got this long black velvet coat that I saw at the thrift shop ─ do you want it ?” my friend, Paula, asked me a few weeks before the date of the opera. Without a word, I nodded my head up and down in a manner that was akin to vigorously shaking a can of spray paint. Да, пожалуйста !

The long duster was a thrill beyond belief ─ each time I stepped forth, a trailing breeze would catch in the sails of the velvet. I felt like one of those guys in “The Matrix” !

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”

With my outfit set, all that was needed was a trademark fur hat. Often called an ushanka, I needed a more basic pillbox version of the traditional Russian winter headwear. To start, I crocheted a base hat out of black yarn and then bought 6 inches worth of faux fur at Jo-Ann Fabrics. After covering the sides and top of the hat, I still had a fraction of the fur left over. The total cost ? Around $1. Now that’s what I call a deal !

Большое спасибо, Paula !

Fur cuffed gloves and a stylish clutch completed my black-on-black ensemble that was purely по-русски.

Eugene Onegin was well worth the wait for the satisfaction of applying my new language skills. Maybe the next time I have the chance to see it, I’ll recognize even more of Pushkin’s verses while simultaneously being swept away in Tchaikovsky’s melodic score. Time to return to my studies…

До свидания !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Eugene Onegin ─ Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1879)
Live in HD air date: April 22, 2017

Cast:
Tatiana ─ Anna Netrebko
Eugene Onegin ─ Peter Mattei
Olga ─ Elena Maximova
Lensky ─ Alexey Dolgov
Prince Gremin ─ Štefan Kocán

Credits:
Conductor ─ Robin Ticciati
Production ─ Deborah Warner
Set Designer ─ Tom Pye
Costume Designer ─ Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer ─ Jean Kalman
Video Designers ─ Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross
Choreographer ─ Kim Brandstrup
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

“Pavarotti” documentary

Sometimes, it is the decisions made on a whim that turn out to be the best. This is what occurred as I opened a regular, mundane e-mail from the Met promoting a new documentary on Luciano Pavarotti. I didn’t know much about Pavarotti, personally, although his voice had always pleased my ears. With the doldrums of the slow summer months poised ahead of me, I figured, “Why not ?” and alerted my theater friends of the occasion.

Trailer for “Pavarotti” documentary

The documentary was informative in that it taught me more about Pavarotti’s life and highlighted his ebullient, larger-than-life personality. However, there was one thing missing in the context of the film and that was the preeminent tenor’s notorious reputation for being “difficult”. Although there were glimpses into tumultuous family spats, most bouts of “divo” behavior were brushed aside like specks of dust on a woolen suit. Naturally, the film was devoid of any serious damages to Pavarotti’s persona, notwithstanding his extramarital affair with Nicoletta Mantovani.

Nicoletta Mantovani and Luciano Pavarotti

Without question, the summit for all was the extended clip of one of Pavarotti’s celebrated performances of “Nessun dorma”. Behind and around me, I heard uncontrollable sniffles and the muffled sounds of Kleenexes to congested noses.

Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma”

Pavarotti’s homeland and heritage of Modena, Italy, inspired the theme for my outfit worn to the documentary: Dripping in Diamonds. Situated between the fashion hubs of Milan and Florence, the northern Italian location evoked thoughts of trendy couture gowns and the glamourous styles. Brash and gaudy like a movie star, but also regal and polished, I grabbed one of my standby dresses from my closet: a sapphire blue one shoulder chiffon gown with rhinestone detailing on the shoulder. Years ago, I bought this gown on clearance at a consignment shop and now it was getting its turn in the spotlight. The jewels and gloves (and a purse “dripping in diamonds” ─ also a consignment find) were the icing on the cake.

A high bun with ringlets spiraling down was just right for my Italian diva look…

Oh, and those shoes ? They’re used, too ! I bought them at a resale closet for $16. They’re Ivanka Trump stilettos whose heights reach the heavens !

Leaving the theater that night, I had to trot back inside because of a missing pair of glasses I thought I had left behind. When I inquired at the podium in the lobby, one of the young attendants remarked that I all needed was a British accent. “Why ?” I asked. “Because you look like royalty” replied the attendant.

A diva I was.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Credits

“Pavarotti” documentary
Date seen: June 4, 2019

Die Zauberflöte ─ The Queen of the Night

If you have a penchant for fairy tales like I do, you’ll find genuine delight in Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte. Centered around a quest for truth and knowledge (and a damsel in distress), the opera is as noble as its hero, Tamino. Between stipulated testing and bravery of self-determination, I willingly succumbed to the dashing chivalry of the prince on a mission to rescue the princess, Pamina.

Charles Castronovo as Tamino and Golda Schultz as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

If the pursuit of true love doesn’t tickle your fancy, the spectacular production by Julie Taymor (of “The Lion King” on Broadway fame) will surely elicit at least one or two gasps of wonder and amazement. The uniqueness of the costumes and puppetry fits seamlessly with the whimsical roots of the opera. There’s even creative comedy for those still unpersuaded.

Marcus Werba as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

Still not convinced ? Perhaps a fearsome villain is more appealing to you and luckily Die Zauberflöte showcases one of the most despised in the bewitching Queen of the Night. While the name sounds like a beacon among the stars and moon, the wicked queen is far from harmonious and caused me a slight shiver, partially due to the most unattractive styling of the character’s costume and make-up. If there was any doubt as to whether the Queen could make a face turn later in the opera, her appearance alone body slammed those speculations onto the floor.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

With the Queen of the Night singing the most famous aria in the opera (and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too), it was without question that I would disguise myself as this otherworldly being for my outing to the opera. While the Julie Taymor costumes are original and ostentatious, I didn’t necessarily feel they best embodied the title of “Queen of the Night” so I imagined my own vision of the character.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

I had a long black velvet dress in my closet ─ that was a running start ─ and now I needed to accessorize the pitch black gown to fully realize its nocturnally regal potential. A queen needs a crown, right ? I thought so, too, and cut a pattern out of a corrugated cardboard box, spray painted it silver, and glued on separately cut star and moon shapes (spray painted and glittered) to the tiara. Silky black ribbons were used as the fastener. The Queen had her crown !

“But what else ?” I pondered. The idea of wearing various accessories whisked through my mind, but when I spotted a shimmery black organza printed with silver stars online, I knew I had found my answer. What could be more stunning than a floating veil of the night sky ? Using 2 yards of fabric, I gathered one widthwise edge and sewed it onto a hair comb. To the opposite widthwise edge, I drew arced lines creating a circular perimeter around what became the bottom of the veil. All raw edges and selvedges were finished and voilà ─ a veil ! Just look at how it sparkles in the evening breeze…

With all the articles combined together (including my long black gloves and jewelry), the outfit’s celestial beauty belied the cruelty of the Queen.

Psst ! This outfit also became my Halloween costume for the year. My bedazzled spider bracelet simply begged to be taken trick-or-treating…

As charming as the starry night, Die Zauberflöte goes down as my favorite Mozart opera. The music dazzles and the story is uplifting. But I’m a sucker for fairy tales, after all…

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Die Zauberflöte ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)
Live in HD air date: October 14, 2017

Cast:
Pamina ─ Golda Schultz
Tamino ─ Charles Castronovo
Papageno ─ Marcus Werba
Queen of the Night ─ Kathryn Lewek
Sarastro ─ René Pape
Speaker ─ Christian Van Horn

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
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra

La Bohème ─ Mimì

My pastor once referred to the plot of La Bohème as “the hippies in Paris.” And after catching a past Met performance of La Bohème on TV one evening, I had to agree. Rebellion against authority, communal living, and starving artists flood the stage with the modes of their free-spirit culture. While one of the most popular operatic works, which has influenced a host of artistic projects outside of opera houses (i.e Rent), I was not initially won over by the loose morals of “The Bohemians”. However, my indifferent attitude did not prevent me from taking the trip to the theater when a fresh cast mounted the open garret of Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic 1981 production. “I’ll give it another chance…” I reasoned.

Matthew Rose as Colline, Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo, Alexey Lavrov as Schaunard, and Lucas Meacham as Marcello in La Bohème / Metropolitan Opera

The pairing of Sonya Yoncheva and Michael Fabiano felt like an old photograph stuffed into an album presently displaced. They looked familiar, but where had I seen them…? Oh, yes─ in La Traviata just a year earlier. However, their wigs and wardrobes had changed drastically from the days of suits and satin sundresses.

Did my second viewing of La Bohème transform my opinion of Puccini’s lovable opera ? Not particularly. While anticipating my favorite melodies (I judge a soprano by the number of goosebumps on my body when listening to “Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì”) was an entertaining highlight, I still wasn’t as emotionally moved by the plot as I had hoped. Perhaps the third time will be the charm…

A scene from La Bohème / Metropolitan Opera

There are times when an opera costume should be interpretive. This was not one of those occasions. No, I knew from the instant I decided to make plans for attending La Bohème that I would dress head to toe as either Mimì or Musetta. Since the more recognizable of the two is the former, and since masquerading as the latter would throw me into a mid-season panic of having to sew something from scratch, I threw in my chips for Mimì. The dishwater blue frock ─ so iconic to Zeffirelli’s sickly sweet Mimì ─ could easily be mimicked with the blue chambray dress in my mother’s closet.

A staple from my mother’s closet ─ her blue dotted chambray dress with lace

But it needed more…

The original dress, which is from the 1970’s or 80’s, hit at the mid-calf level, but this was too short for the floor length skirts of the 1830’s. I remedied my malady with a matching chambray ruffle, which I attached to the bottom hem of the dress.

Now I needed the shawl… Mimì is nothing without her crocheted shawl ! A plethora of images from past Met performances guided me when choosing a pattern…

Here’s the pattern I used: https://shyamanivas.blogspot.com/2017/06/latticed-spider-shawl-1.html

I devised my own border scheme based on the production pictures and with a pair of lace gloves and upswept hairstyle… voilà─ Mimì !

“Yes, they call me Mimì”… at least they did at the theater that day ! It’s always fun to replicate the style of a character to the nth degree and Mimì was a relative breeze. Although I’m not counted among the lovers of La Bohème, I’m certain that Puccini’s tunes will draw me back again someday. But next time, I plan to chart a new course for my costume… look out, Musetta, I’m coming for you !

Susanna Phillips as Musetta / Metropolitan Opera

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

La Bohème ─ Giacomo Puccini (1896)
Live in HD air date: February 24, 2018

Cast:
Mimì ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Rodolfo ─ Michael Fabiano
Musetta ─ Susanna Phillips
Marcello ─ Lucas Meachem
Schaunard ─ Alexey Lavrov
Colline ─ Matthew Rose
Benoit/Alicindoro ─ Paul Plishka

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marco Armiliato
Production ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designer ─ Peter J. Hall
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Revival Stage Director ─Gregory Keller
Live in HD Director ─ Matthew Diamond
Host ─ Kelli O’Hara

Manon Lescaut

With an updated setting of occupied Paris during WWII, the Met’s volatile new production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut brought out the glamour, darkness, and moral ambiguity of film noir. And just as with most Hollywood movies of the 1940’s, drama mottled every facet of Abbé Prevost’s salacious story.
But the most unforeseen action occurred off stage when Roberto Alagna stepped into the leading role of des Grieux with only 16 days to learn the part by memory. His alacrity paid off; he sounded terrific ! He also paired well with the statuesque Kristine Opolais, who, being of an above average height, exchanged her pumps for flats to better suit the abbreviated height of her fill-in des Grieux. How strange it felt to my eye to see a woman in flats in the 1940’s…

Roberto Alagna as des Grieux and Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut / Metropolitan Opera

Also confounding my visual perceptions were the distorted sets of Richard Eyre’s production. The swooping stairs that spanned across the stage made me fearful for the chorus members having to maneuver them. However, practice makes perfect and no false steps were made. Whew !

A scene from Sir Richard Eyre’s Manon Lescaut / Metropolitan Opera

While glamour is always a good thing, the overwhelming theme of illicit sex in Manon Lescaut was rather repugnant to me: the throngs of much older men scheming to entrap a young, innocent woman was not my idea of romance. Coupled by the dark overtones of the tumultuous setting, the feeling I had while watching Manon Lescaut was that of bitter cold and dampness ─ I wanted to crawl into a corner and wait for things to pass over ! As such, the opera ended in shambles.

The final scene of Manon Lescaut / Metropolitan Opera

No, I didn’t care for Manon Lescaut. However, there was a silver lining to the new production and that was the swishy skirts and tilted millinery of 1940’s fashion ! If there’s one thing I enjoy more than others, it’s historical fashion and having the chance to experience a different period of clothing and mannerism. Of course, much research goes into my outfits when there’s a specific look I need to emulate, but fortunately I found just the ticket in one of my mother’s old dresses. Since I was a child, I have loved the pink and cream striped dress that has hung in the closet for years and one day when I plucked up the nerve to try it on for size, it fit ! The button loop closures at the waist are my favorite detail.

Pearls were a must as well as an elegant chignon, but I needed something more to aid in the cause… a hat was the likely choice. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a darling fascinator complete with birdcage veil ─ it was perfect for my desired look ! Without it, I wouldn’t have felt near the woman of the 40’s as I did while peeking through its tiny mesh windows. Now if only I had had a decent pair of pumps…

Thank you, Aunt Belinda !

I may not care whether I see Manon Lescaut ever again, but I do wish another occasion would arise for feminine fashion of the Forties !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Manon Lescaut ─ Giacomo Puccini (1893)
Live in HD air date: March 5, 2016

Cast:
Manon Lescaut ─ Kristine Opolais
Des Grieux ─ Roberto Alagna
Lescaut ─ Massimo Cavalletti
Geronte ─ Brindley Sherratt

Credits:
Conductor ─ Fabio Luisi
Production ─ Sir Richard Eyre
Set Designer ─ Rob Howell
Costume Designer ─ Fotini Dimou
Lighting Designer ─ Peter Mumford
Choreographer ─ Sara Erde
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt

Così fan tutte

“All women are like that…” so says the cynical Don Alfonso to his naïve friends as he demonstrates the fickleness of the fair sex… But is the assumption ─ that women are bound to stray from their lovers if given the chance ─ an accurate claim ?

While sometimes considered outdated for modern society, Mozart’s piquant comedy about the test of fidelity through trickery was nothing but a delight to me. Lesley Koenig’s picturesque production was understated and elegant and the cast was just as pretty, especially the two lovestruck sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, played by Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard. With their dark brown hair and fair complexions, it wasn’t a stretch to believe them to be blood relatives.

Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte / Metropolitan Opera

Their fiancés were adorable. Ferrando and Guglielmo (such strange names in this opera ─ Fiordiligi, Guglielmo…) were so smitten with the sisters that their giggles and giddiness reminded me of teenage boys with their first crush. Even while disguised as Arab sheikhs their bubbling enthusiasm for their sweethearts couldn’t be stifled.

Danielle de Niese as Despina, Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando, Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo, and Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte / Metropolitan Opera

The thalassic score accompanied the harmonious singing like a sigh floating on a breeze and the lighthearted moments of comedy were balanced with some introspective seriousness. If I had one complaint about Così, it’s that it’s a tad too long: I walked out of the theater just after 11 p.m. from a 7 p.m. start time. However, the decision to travel over an hour and a half to catch the summer encore of Così fan tutte was well worth the late evening drive.

A scene from Così fan tutte / Metropolitan Opera

Since Così is a cute, zany opera, I thought a dress of a similar description would be the perfect outfit for the summer encore. Best of all, I didn’t have to look beyond my mother’s closet for the answer. Like me, my mother used to sew many of her clothes and thankfully she has kept nearly all of her dresses and jumpers from the 1970’s and 80’s. One of my favorites is the black and white polka dot dress with dropped waist and puff sleeves that fits me well. I even found the original pattern in the worn, bulging cardboard pattern box… Dress #2 at the bottom of the envelope was obviously the intended look my mother desired…

Simplicity 9446 circa 1989

Keeping it classy with pearls, long gloves, and a ladylike chignon, I was decked out for the escapades of Mozart’s Battle of the Sexes.

The opera’s finale was a happy one and the men married their betrothed. But back to the all important question: were the women faithful to their fiancés ? No. Did I care ? Hardly ! All’s well that ends well ─ the opera was too charming not to forgive and forget.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Così fan tutte ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1790)
Live in HD air date: April 26, 2014
(Encore seen: July 21, 2016)

Cast:
Ferrando ─ Matthew Polenzani
Guglielmo ─ Rodion Pogossov
Fiordiligi ─ Susanna Phillips
Dorabella ─ Isabel Leonard
Don Alfonso ─ Maurizio Muraro
Despina ─ Danielle de Niese

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Lesley Koenig
Set and Costume Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer ─ Duane Schuler
Stage Director ─ Robin Guarino
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

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

Acoustic Eidolon

I was touched ─ I really was ─ when I was invited with a handful of others to a private concert being given at the clubhouse of a quaint little neighborhood community nearby. While different from my usual opera outings, I figured it would be a welcome change to expand my musical horizons. And for $15, it was a fair deal.
Consisting of a husband and wife duo, Acoustic Eidolon blends classicism with the folkloric adding a healthy smattering of rousing blues and lyric verses. Hannah, with her “chocolate” cello, played with both tenderness and gusto while at times accompanying the pieces with her angelic voice ─ sometimes in French. Hypnotic and melodic, she could justly be described as a siren without the impending danger.
Joe, simultaneously picking and strumming his inventive “guitjo” (a double-necked guitar with banjo capabilities), was the pragmatist ─ the frank one ─ of the two. Often times he would provide the punch line at the culmination of one of Hannah’s soulful stories such as the time when her cello was severely damaged during airport baggage handling. “United [Airlines],” Joe sneered with mock surprise. “But you probably knew that before I said it.” Snickers bubbled from the audience.
Their set list was unique. Joining covers of Simon and Garfunkel’s eerie “The Sound of Silence” and Queen’s stupendous “Bohemian Rhapsody” (their “opera piece”, Joe claimed) were original compositions from the couple’s various albums over the years including some with global flavors. In particular, my favorite of these was “One Ol’ Wreck”, a bustling bluesy tribute to Joe’s love of cars complete with Hannah’s uncannily realistic “honks” manufactured by the skill of her bow. It had my skinny stiletto tapping in time on the floor. Vroom, vroom !

Any event, no matter how small or informal, is an excuse to dress up for me. And that’s just what I did. During my opera off-season the previous year, I had made a handkerchief hem skirt using Vogue 7766.

Vogue 7766

Initially, I intended to use this pattern for my Valkyrie skirt, but aborted the idea in favor of an alternative approach. While the plan was jettisoned, the pattern was not and I was elated to have a chance to put it to good use, proudly outfitted in a bold striped sateen from Fabric Mart Fabrics. It mingled well as a dressier look: sheer gloves, glitter stilettos, and my mother’s classic Robert Scott sweater from the 70’s/80’s all coordinated in a chic statement.

Meeting Hannah and Joe after the concert was a treat ! They were personable and Hannah especially remarked on how much she appreciated my effort and style in fashion: “When I saw you walk into the room, I said to myself, ‘Now there’s a woman after my own heart ─ the shoes, the skirt, the gloves, the matching purse… !'” How could I not blush ? I was flattered.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For more information about Acoustic Eidolon, please visit their website !

Event: Acoustic Eidolon concert
Date: February 16, 2020

Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss’s galloping social comedy of class and sex was a double shot of caffeine that left me both breathless and exhilarated. Although originally set in the 1700’s, the latest Met redux advanced the story to 1911, the year that the opera first premiered while coinciding with the cusp of World War I and the disappearance of the Habsburg empire.

Günther Groissböck (center) as Baron Ochs and Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier / Metropolitan Opera

Uniquely, this was to be the farewell of Renée Fleming and Elīna Garanča, both retiring their respective roles as the worldly and wistful Marschallin and her adolescent lover, Octavian. It’s really a pity ─ both were superb, but especially the latter, who had me completely under the spell of her masculine alter ego. Their affair may have been short-lived, but their legacy will live on !

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier / Metropolitan Opera

Equally scintillating were Günther Groissböck as the hilariously oafish Baron Ochs and Erin Morely as the dainty debutante, Sophie. In fact, I would venture so far as to deem the cast as nearly immaculate: I couldn’t imagine better singing actors to play each role, especially in regards to the stratagems and horseplay of the opera. My sides were splitting !

Erin Morely as Sophie and Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier / Metropolitan Opera

Since Edwardian was the style à la mode, I did my best to try and capture the time period using what I had one hand. My mother’s red Christmas dress, worn in the late 1980’s, offered a classic silhouette that could surely mimic the matronly Marschallin. To tie in the ecru lace collar along the neckline, I crocheted a pair of gloves to further my ideal of the graceful Edwardian lady.

The makings of a lady

The hat, oh! the hat…

How many times are the fashionable ladies of the early 20th century pictured without some enormous feathered and flowered chapeau nesting upon their updo ? Hardly ever ! I needed something spectacular to set off the conservative frock. So I snatched an old Panama laying around from years ago and padded the crown with wads of cotton to eliminate the outer indentions. Then, I sandwiched the brim of the hat with two large cardboard “donuts” and applied copious amounts of duct tape to secure the layers from shifting.

A swath of vibrant scarlet velvet was tucked into the newly expanded brim and reshaped crown. Out of the same velvet I stitched a gigantic bow and attached it to the back of the hat…

A bouquet of red roses (Walmart’s Finest) and gold Christmas bow were all that were needed to christen my hat for Edwardian greatness.

Elegant and ostentatious… just like the ladies of the Edwardian era and Strauss’s brilliant Der Rosenkavalier !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Der Rosenkavalier ─ Richard Strauss (1911)
Live in HD air date: May 13, 2017

Cast:
The Marschallin ─ Renée Fleming
Octavian ─ Elīna Garanča
Sophie ─ Erin Morely
Baron Ochs ─ Günther Groissböck
Faninal ─ Markus Brück
An Italian Singer ─ Matthew Polenzani

Credits:
Conductor ─ Sebastian Weigle
Production ─ Robert Carsen
Set Designer ─ Paul Steinberg
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designers ─ Robert Carsen, Peter Van Praet
Choreographer ─ Philippe Giraudeau
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani