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

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

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

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

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