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

Die Walküre

I couldn’t have asked for a better opera for my first outing of Wagner: from Bugs Bunny to WWE wrestler walk-up music, Die Walküre‘s fame and legacy permeates all realms of music and culture. Who hasn’t heard the irresistibly iconic “Ride of the Valkyries” or been amused by the warrior women with braids and Viking helmets ?

Part of an epic tetralogy know formally as “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, Die Walküre explodes with mythological drama and some of the most involving music ever written. Ever since I began attending operas, I’ve always heard mentions of Wagner’s “engrossing” music and how spectators loose track of time while taking in a performance, despite the harrowing length of most of Wagner’s works. Knowing this, I was a little apprehensive about how I would fare at my first Ring opera.

Jamie Barton as Fricka, Greer Grimsley as Wotan, and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre / Metropolitan Opera

I shouldn’t have been worried ─ I loved Die Walküre and was hooked on the Ring Cycle ! While the layered story dipped into several previous arcs that occurred in Das Rhinegold (the first opera in the tetralogy), I found I was able to keep pace with the action and inevitably slipped into that intoxicating Wagner “trance”. Brutish warriors and incestuous twins aside, there were greatly tender moments as well. The final farewell between Wotan, the flawed God of Valhalla, and his disobedient Valkyrie daughter, Brünnhilde, nearly sent my mascara running !

Greer Grimsley as Wotan and Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre / Metropolitan Opera

What is a ‘Valkyrie’ anyway ? In reading up on Norse mythology, I learned how Valkyries were immortal female fighters who aided in the battles among men on earth and safely carried the fallen heroes to Valhalla where they would live and serve Wotan in happiness. Although generally styled as Viking women with horned helmets and long braided pigtails, the Met’s Robert Lepage production has altered the women’s accoutrements to have filigreed chrome wings mounted to diadems and textured skirts of a metallic mylar material. As a costume that would unmistakably smack of cosplay, I set out to replicate the shiny scaled armor bodices and flashy skirts of the Met’s fearless Valkyries.

A scene with the Valkyries: Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the Wälsung, Sieglinde / Metropolitan Opera

Sourcing the materials was the first step. Initially, I thought of using a spangle sequin fabric for the chain mail bodice, but decided against it in favor of hand cutting my “scales” out of versatile silver pleather for a more authentic look. In order to use my hot knife on the pleather, I needed a stencil and a sturdy one at that ! A branding pen devours paper like the flames of Brünnhilde’s bridal fire ─ I transferred my paper patterns onto an empty soda can and burned both pleather and black matte satin using their forms.

With long lengths of scalloped scales simultaneously cut and sealed, I sewed them alternately onto a princess bodice I drafted to fit my figure using patterns from the Corset Academy. Wax paper was the saving grace while stitching sticky, scrunching pleather…

Wax paper stitched on top of the pleather

Just a note─ I don’t suggest making a lining out of heavy polyester satin, especially if you live in hot and humid climates like I do. While I could quell my mascara from running down my cheek, the sweat down my spine I could not. The bodice was a polyester sauna !

Bodice lined, boned, and topstitched along seams

One of the most distinguishing features of the costume was the lofty pair of wings, glinting in the flashes of battle. Using pictorial resources available on the web (particularly, Deborah Voigt’s portrayal), I drew a freehand version of the openwork wing on paper and transferred it onto a thin cardboard cereal box to be spray painted later.

Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde / Metropolitan Opera
The paper wing stencil

Once the wings were painted, they were affixed to a pleather covered foam diadem. Wrist cuffs out of the same foam/pleather combination anchored the tapered ends of the fishnet mesh sleeves. All that remained was the skirt, which was created from steely stretch taffeta by a series of angled half circles formed into a wrap style. The costume was finished and I was ready to take flight as a Valkyrie !

In spite of the poor choice of lining material, wearing this costume was a thrill ! After all, how many people can claim that they’ve been a Valkyrie ? This outfit also doubled as my Halloween costume for the year and just as at the theater, it sparked otherworldly interest.

“Hojotoho !”

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Die Walküre ─ Richard Wagner (1870)
Live in HD air date: March 30, 2019

Cast:
Brünnhilde ─ Christine Goerke
Sieglinde ─ Eva-Maria Westbroek
Fricka ─ Jamie Barton
Siegmund ─ Stuart Skelton
Wotan ─ Greer Grimsley
Hunding ─ Günter Groissböck

Credits:
Conductor ─ Philippe Jordan
Production ─ Robert Lepage
Associate Director ─ Neilson Vignola
Set Designer ─ Carl Fillion
Costume Designer ─ François St-Aubin
Lighting Designer ─ Etienne Boucher
Video Image Artist ─ Boris Firquet
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt