Tosca

With a static setting of June 17-18, 1800, how does a stage director erect an enlivened production of Puccini’s Tosca ? When tasked to the capable hands of Sir David McVicar, the opera, no matter the setting, is bound to be a hit. That prediction held true: the Met’s enthralling new production of Tosca was bold and dramatic, pious and perilous.

A scene from Act III of Tosca / Metropolitan Opera

Although the McVicar production was a huge success, it’s almost unfathomable to believe that the entire principal cast and conductor originally slated to perform bowed out before the first curtain ever ascended. However, the new players were arguably just as effective with tempestuous Sonya Yoncheva and swarthy Vittorio Grigolo igniting passion as the lovers Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi.

Vittorio Grigolo as Mario Cavaradossi and Sonya Yoncheva as Floria Tosca / Metropolitan Opera

Everyone loves a good romance. But for me, the highlight of Tosca is the riveting Te Deum, a processional of hallowed majesty and lascivious scheming. If I had to choose a small handful of favorite lines from all the operas ever written, Scarpia’s blasphemous and ironic pronouncement (“Tosca, you make me forget God !”) would be ranked in the top three. The sacrilegious statement simultaneously occurs with the conclusion of the chorus’ magnanimous hymn of praise… In the middle of a cathedral. During High Mass. Priceless.

Željko Lučić as Scarpia (far right) during the Te Deum of Tosca / Metropolitan Opera

Previously mentioned, Tosca is set in 1800, often referred to as the Regency/Napoleonic era in history. I’ll be frank ─ never have I thought the extremely elevated waistlines of empire gowns to be flattering on any woman. The style invariably reminds me of two things: nightgowns and maternity clothes. But, alas ! It was the required look for the opera so I began to contemplate my own gown. While there are a multitude of commercial sewing patterns for Empire/Regency gowns on the market, I chose Butterick 6074 because it appeared more historically accurate and brought the added value of five different pattern options in one envelope. I made a variation of version A.

Butterick 6074

Nearly every detail of my Empire ensemble was modeled after the simplistic gowns (they must always be called gowns, I learned) worn during the infancy of the 19th century. The sheer train and sleeves, drawstring neckline, and accenting Greek key ribbon at the waistline were all characteristics of the most popular gowns of the day. Pearls and a hair ribbon accessorized my look as well as a shawl from the Orient.

Aiding me in my research were the very helpful articles from Fashion-Era.com and the University of Vermont. These two online resources were invaluable as I often referred to their guidance. Curiously, the gauzy whitework gown worn in Act I of the opera was fairly accurate ─ especially when speaking in terms of theatrical costumes ─ albeit, the short gathered tulle ruffles around the neckline were a mere artistic deviation.

Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca and Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi / Metropolitan Opera

What most people wouldn’t know is that in addition to the floor length gown, I also had to sew a chemise and set of short stays (the corset of the period) to obtain the proper “column” silhouette that was so ubiquitously envied during the Napoleonic Era. In addition to shaping the figure into that of a Grecian statue, the height of the bustline was also raised by the stays. Who would have thought that a few stubby lengths of nylon cable ties and some strategic bust gores could give such heavenly lift ?

Regency chemise and short stays

Despite my general distaste for women’s clothing of the early 19th century, I gained an… appreciation… for the Empire style and learned the reasoning behind its popularity during the time. Undoubtedly, the greatest advantage to my costuming is the breadth and retention of knowledge that is acquired during my extensive research. While the gowns of early 1800’s were soft and demure, the military battles and civic rivalries during the period made for fiery reading. Perhaps drawing upon history, that same combustible drama was clearly emanated in the verismo verses of Tosca.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Tosca ─ Giacomo Puccini (1900)
Live in HD air date: January 27, 2018

Cast:
Tosca ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Mario Cavaradossi ─ Vittorio Grigolo
Scarpia ─ Željko Lučić
Sacristan ─ Patrick Carfizzi

Credits:
Conductor ─ Emmanuel Villaume
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set and Costume Designer ─ John Macfarlane
Lighting Designer ─ David Finn
Movement Director ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard

Adriana Lecouvreur

It has been quipped that in order to perform Adriana Lecouvreur successfully, real-life divas must be cast. Art must imitate life and despite thrilling drama and chest-heaving music, the current stock of bona fide divas is rather sparse. Therefore, Adriana Lecouvreur remains mostly on the shelf of the operatic repertoire. However, the Met assembled a perfect bill of spectacularly strong singers for the star-studded Live in HD broadcast. The heat was on !

Piotr Beczała as Maurizio and Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur / Metropolitan Opera

Sir David McVicar’s elegant production embodied the powder and pomp of 18th century French theater. With a bust of Molière gracing the stage like a god watching and listening in silence to his progeny perform, one could almost immediately grasp the nucleus of the opera: no one is faithful to anyone in love.

A scene from Adriana Lecouvreur / Metropolitan Opera

A love triangle with deadly stakes, my brain was twisted in two trying to unravel the deception of it all. But probably the most anticipated of all the action was the impending battle between Anita Rachvelishvili and Anna Netrebko. This was to be Round 2 of the Anna vs. Anita vocal boxing match ─ the first occurring in Aida just a few months prior.
“They bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws;” to quote from the famed poem by James Leigh Hunt… I loved every moment of it !

Anita Rachvelishvili as the Princess of Bouillon, Ambrogio Maestri as Michonnet, and Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur / Metropolitan Opera

While the plot twists and intrigue of the opera were at times difficult to untangle, my 18th century gown was anything but a chore, which surprised even me !
Using the Simplicity 4092 pattern that included pocket hoops for support of a proper silhouette (a terrific perk to Andrea Schewe’s delightful design), I made the featured gold version on the envelope (B), and began working on my Rococo-inspired gown as the very first project on my brand new Baby Lock sewing machine and serger.

Simplicity 4092 / Designed by Andrea Schewe

But the real secret to such a regal gown without breaking the bank on luxurious silks and brocades is that I used extra wide width polyester curtain fabric, which significantly cut down on the costs of materials. (Can someone say, “Scarlett O’Hara” ?) According to the pattern instructions, the gown called for close to 5 yards of fabric. However, with the 3+ meter width of the green and gold floral damask upholstery material I used, I only needed to purchase 2 yards (2 yards @ 120 inches wide ≈ 6 yards) in addition to 1 yard of a contrasting cream material for the stomacher and underskirt. Instead of spending over $100 on standard width material (54-60″), I rounded my totals to just under $33, minus the shipping costs ─ what a steal !

My alterations were few: I lowered the neckline slightly in order to achieve the peeking bosom look of the era as well as slimming down the sleeves to fit more snugly. Bows were a must and frilly trims, too. But the bow pattern that was included in the packet was much too “cartoonish” in its original format for my taste, so I reworked those to better suit the width of the front stomacher. They were so cute !

And check out the pocket hoops ! Although not as wide as traditional panniers, they provided just the right “oompf” to the pleated skirts of the gown.

Perfectly fashioned in the 18th century style, my mother had the task of arranging my hair. Didn’t she do a great job ? It reminded me of Belle from the ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast”.

This was a fabulous gown worn to an equally glamorous opera with captivating historical backstories ! Marie Antoinette would’ve been proud.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Adriana Lecouvreur ─ Francisco Cilea (1902)
Live in HD air date: January 12, 2019

Cast:
Adriana Lecouvreur ─ Anna Netrebko
Maurizio ─ Piotr Beczała
Princess of Bouillon ─ Anita Rachvelishvili
Michonnet ─ Ambrogio Maestri
The Abbé ─ Carlo Bosi
Prince of Bouillon ─ Maurizio Muraro

Credits:
Conductor ─ Gianandrea Noseda
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Choreographer ─ Andrew George
Associate Director ─ Justin Way
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani

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

Aida

Aida is a grand opera. There are horses. There are ballet numbers. There are massive sets and ornate costumes. And what could be grander than having Anna Netrebko headline the Met’s 2018-2019 Live in HD season opener ?

A scene from Verdi’s Aida / Metropolitan Opera

I’ll be the first one to admit that Aida has never interested me. Whether it be the mercilessly hot desert locale of Egypt or the tension of two women fighting over one man (I infinitely prefer two disparate, but equally impassioned, suitors sparring over one fair maiden in my ideal operatic amorous affair), the opera has never been a very important “must see” for me except for its fame alone.

But this was Anna Netrebko’s Met role debut as Aida… how was I to miss that ????

Anna Netrebko as Aida / Metropolitan Opera

We all knew that Netrebko would be lauded as the star of this opera. More surprisingly, she had arguably one of the toughest battles of her career up against her mezzo-soprano rival, Anita Rachvelishvili’s fearsome Amneris. Hailing from Georgia (and I don’t mean the state), Rachvelishvili prowled the stage like a lioness eyeing her prey. Gripped and enraged, her stentorian voice roared during the showdown scene with Netrebko upon learning of her slave’s concealed love for the warrior, Radamès. I ate it up like a meaty dish of stew, salivating for more. It was the highlight of the opera for me.

Anna Netrebko as Aida and Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris / Metropolitan Opera

The opera fizzled to a slow burn after the early fireworks between Netrebko and Rachvelishvili. Was my opinion changed after seeing Aida for myself ? Not particularly. Oh, well… There is a possibility of my future attendance, but only if Anna and Anita are cast in the starring roles ! Another toe-to-toe contest of prodigious prowess would be worth the sullen bore of the plot.

Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili in Aida / Metropolitan Opera

Due to a previous project which swallowed up my sewing schedule unexpectedly (ahem, Dalila), I had under a month to conceive, curate, and craft my costume for Aida. I doubt I’ll ever do that again. Since the Met’s production has been around for over 30 years, the pictorial research wasn’t difficult. While the obvious choice would have been to masquerade as the titular Ethiopian slave/princess, I was more drawn to her glitzy Egyptian rival, Amneris, and began my work on mimicking the character’s garb, almost as if I was to be her doppelgänger.

Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris in Aida / Metropolitan Opera

The outfit came together in the nick of time and was a fun way to immerse myself in the ancient Egyptian culture. Though I based my costume off of pictures from the opera, I still engaged in my usual research for historically-based operas.

The lamé cape was my favorite part… as well as the patrons of the theater ! I was repeatedly asked to spread its golden folds to reveal its full glamour.

Later in the month, I wore this same costume for Halloween as it was perfectly acceptable for Cleopatra. While the flocks and droves easily recognized me as the most famous Queen of the Nile, I wonder how many of them knew of the other great Egyptian Royal… the one in Verdi’s grand opera… Amneris !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Curious about how I crafted my Egyptian ensemble in such a hasty dash ? Read my tutorial post detailing the creation of my lookalike costume ! http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2020/06/16/amneris-%e2%94%80-from-broadcloth-to-egyptian-glamour-in-under-a-month/

Cast and Credits:

Aida ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1871)
Live in HD air date: October 6, 2018

Cast:
Aida ─ Anna Netrebko
Amneris ─ Anita Rachvelishvili
Radamès ─ Aleksandrs Antonenko
Amonasro ─ Quinn Kelsey
Ramfis ─ Dmitry Belosselskiy
The King ─ Ryan Speedo Green

Credits:
Conductor ─ Nicola Luisotti
Production ─ Sonja Frisell
Set Designer ─ Gianni Quaranta
Costume Designer ─ Dada Saligeri
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Choreographer ─ Alexei Ratmansky
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard