Fedora, Princess Fedora

A Russian princess, a murdered fiancé, fatal misunderstanding, poison… count me in ! As a rarely performed verismo piece in the opera repertoire, how was I to pass up my chance to see such a tempestuous treat as Fedora ?! While Umberto Giordano may not be as well-known a composer as Verdi or Puccini, his glorious melodies were worthy of all the passion and praise heaped onto his compatriots.

Sonya Yoncheva in a promotional photo for David McVicar’s new production of Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

Once again, the Met’s new Fedora was a David McVicar production, which initially evoked a stifled yawn from me. Lately, his productions have been starting to look the same and I was in no humor for a repeat. Surprisingly kept traditional and set in the early 1880’s, the sets and costumes (and jewels !) were over the top in opulence, especially Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s gowns with their copious displays of bustled satin skirts and cuirasse bodices. Boredom ? What boredom ?!

A scene from Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

The singers themselves were fine; Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Beczała were a verismo power couple with comedic blips from Rosa Feola and Lucas Meacham. But while the visual glamours and vocal displays were enlivening, my favorite part of the performance occurred during one of Giordano’s masterful orchestral interludes when Fedora reunited and danced with her deceased “ghost” fiancé in her Parisian apartment. Perhaps that was a theatrical invention on McVicar’s part, but the powerful combination of tender passion and heartrending music gave me trouble in preventing sooty tears from streaming down my cheek. Enchanting !!

Piotr Beczała as Loris Ipanoff and Sonya Yoncheva as Fedora / Metropolitan Opera

“The name’s Fedora… Princess Fedora.” I have my dear friend, Faith, to thank for the inspiration for my outfit. A few years ago on my birthday, Faith gifted me with the most gorgeous beaded rhinestone appliqué belt. My eyes were dazzled at its sight and the thoughts of rich ball gowns waltzed through my head. Unfortunately, many metal-plated settings tarnish to pewter with no auxiliary assistance and so in order to not be disappointed by a lackluster embellishment, I let the belt sit unattended for over two years to “test” its mettle (and metal ─ ha !). The result was encouraging; not a single change came to its patina during its prescribed indolence. Its time to shine was now.

Because the gown on which I was to use the belt was to be a tribute of thanks to Faith, it had to be royal blue, no question ! Faith’s favorite color is blue. The satin was ordered months in advance. However, I did not begin work on the dress until nearly three weeks before the opera ! Fortunately, through Tatiana Kozorovitsky’s detailed lessons in her Dressmaking Academy, I was not in a panic since I knew the secrets of cutting and sewing couture gowns with marked celerity. This endeavour proved no different, although I was exceedingly pleased with the fit of the bodice in comparison to past gowns I’ve made. Experience really does help !


A cold front rendered the need for a coat and boy, did I have a pretty one ! This vintage fur-trimmed, gold and cream brocade coat was bought years ago at a resale store.

Cheap white gloves (Walmart’s finest), and an economical crown bought on Amazon made me feel like the regal princess I intended.

I told my mother that I wanted my hairstyle to look like one of Kate Middleton’s elegant chignons…

Not bad !

Thank you, Faith, for the most beautiful inspiration piece ! It made my gown absolutely perfect. Feeling like an imperial princess of the surest nature, I was able to surrender to all the charms and passions of the performance. Isn’t that what opera is about, anyway ?

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Fedora ─ Umberto Giordano (1898)
Live in HD air date: January 14, 2023

Cast:

Fedora ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Loris Ipanoff ─ Piotr Beczała
Olga ─ Rosa Feola
De Siriex ─ Lucas Meacham

Credits:

Conductor ─ Marco Armiliato
Production ─ David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Movement Director ─ Sara Erde
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Christine Goerke

La Traviata: The Real Violetta

With the satellite repaired at my local haunt, I returned to the theater to punch my ticket for La Traviata, an opera, which, while not a favorite of mine, is one that cannot be denied no matter how many times it is shown in the theaters ─ the music is just too good ! After all, who can resist a bubbling brindisi and soaring arias ?

Nadine Sierra as Violetta / Metropolitan Opera

Although there were some initial issues with the picture quality and crackling sound in the cinema, the performance waxed better and better, culminating in one of the greatest finales I’ve ever seen incarnated in the opera. The tears were real. The emotion was all-encompassing… I love a good death scene and this was it ! Bravi, Nadine and Stephen !

Nadine Sierra and Stephen Costello in La Traviata / Metropolitan Opera

Twice had I seen La Traviata in the theaters before this current jaunt and as I was beginning to think of ideas for my latest outfit, I had one prohibition: I did not want to wear another red dress ! My opinions about Michael Mayer’s revival production haven’t changed much from my first time seeing it in 2018 and Susan Hilferty’s costumes, although beautiful, were not something I wanted to replicate for my own closet. Rather, I was inspired by the original Violetta, the one immortalized in Alexandre Dumas Jr.’s novel, La Dame aux Camélias.

Marie Duplessis, converted to Marguerite Gautier and Violetta Valéry in written and theatrical texts, was the real-life Parisian courtesan who lived and died during the 1840’s. Over the summer, I read La Dame aux Camélias and was caught between frustration and pity over Marie’s hapless fate. I wanted to recreate her. And so, I began researching the time period and everything central to women’s fashion.

Early Victorian Style: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, circa 1840’s

Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 was my treasure trove for resources and my aim was to use one of the extant designs as the basis for creating my dress.

A gown from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1

Although enlarging the corresponding pattern pieces in the book to their proper scale (800%), an initial mock-up proved that more alterations would be needed in order to have the dress fit my figure. Time was like quicksand through the hourglass and the thought of applying modern day adjustments was a hopeless endeavour. Another thought popped into my mind: draping !

I had never draped in my life, but it seemed like the more expeditious route to pursue. What did I have to lose ? Using the magnified patterns as a guide, I attempted my first draped garment. My results were appealing.

Transferring the darts and adding seam allowances to the muslin pieces made for quick work, but more fitting issues arose as the bodice was cut too short and the waist was left too loose for my corseted figure. Oh, well ! It wasn’t too shabby for my first attempt at a couture technique.

With a hairdo that had my mother revolting in horror, I was ready to enact my tribute to Marie Duplessis, the “real” Violetta.

In addition to draping, I also tried my hand at cartridge pleating for the skirt, piped the armholes and waistline, and used a hook and eye placket to close the back. So 1840’s !

The creamy white satin was stunningly gorgeous, but by far my favorite part of the outfit was the wooden camellia magnet corsage that my cousin, Rosemary, fashioned for me.

Thank you, Rosemary !

With naturally preserved salal leaves, the bloom completely set off my outfit. Rosemary has a tremendous business creating real-look softened wood florals for weddings and events. And she ships worldwide, too, so be sure to check out her site ! https://www.rosemarysgardenflorals.com/

I loved wearing this outfit along with all the Maria Callas/Scarlett O’Hara vibes it brought me. Through a sickly, “kept” woman, I learned much about the 1840’s and opera’s greatest heroine. Marie Duplessis: the real Violetta.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

La Traviata ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1853)
Live in HD air date: November 5, 2022

Cast:
Violetta Valéry ─ Nadine Sierra
Alfredo Germont ─ Stephen Costello
Giorgio Germont ─ Luca Salsi

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Callegari
Production ─ Michael Mayer
Set Designer ─ Christine Jones
Costume Designer ─ Susan Hilferty
Lighting Designer ─ Kevin Adams
Choreographer ─ Lorrin Latarro
Revival Stage Director ─ Sarah Ina Meyers
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

Medea: The Opera That Wasn’t, The Outfit That Was

Clopping up the stairs to the ticket booth at my local theater, I received devastating news: “Unfortunately, there will be no opera today. Our satellite is down and nobody came to fix it this week,” said the bespectacled man behind the glass. Imagine my abject disappointment. With no other options, I called my ride and headed back home without the chance to hear Cherubini’s splendid music or see the marvelous singers display the prowess of their gifted larynxes.
Despite the cinema’s snafu, I still had an outfit to wear, and I wasn’t about to let that go unseen.

Concept

The drab, tortured promotional photos for Medea gave me no inspiration as to what to create for the Met’s inaugural production of the opera. There are only so many times a black dress can be worn without the accompaniment of jaded yawns, no matter how haute (or grunge) the variations. Black was not in my future, at least for Medea.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Medea / Metropolitan Opera

Matthew Polenzani and Sondra Radvanovsky in Medea / Metropolitan Opera

For advanced enrichment, I read Eurypides’s play to prepare for Medea. Subsequently, my plan was to draw from Medea’s story of an outsider brought to Corinth for the purpose of lament and revenge. A Grecian-style dress in drapey jersey knit seemed to be an auspicious beginning. However, that thought was discarded like a gum wrapper onto the pavement by the advent of something more scintillating. During the summer, my friend, Judi, had given me a garbage bag full of high end upholstery samples that she had received from a friend who owns an interior design firm in Ft. Lauderdale. The samples were sumptuous ! Most particularly, I was attracted to a one yard piece of embroidered serpentine fabric with stylized pomegranate seeds.

Anar Trellis Serpentine in Crimson / Zoffany

Execution

The design was wildly exotic and could effortlessly represent both the harrowing scenes of ancient Greek tragedy and the fruits and vegetation of the Near East. A column skirt seemed to be the standout choice since preserving every inch of the embroidered material was a top priority. But what else to go with the skirt ?
All of the manufacturer’s tags were left on the samples so I researched the brand and found plenty of inspiration from enticing design stills.

The Cotswold Manor Collection from Zoffany

Although I wouldn’t have originally thought of it, Zoffany paired the exact same trellis fabric I had in my hands with vivid cobalt blues. And serendipitously, I had a piece of cobalt blue velvet in the bag of samples. A sartorial love match was made !

Immediately, I had my vision: a boxy crop top that would be simple enough so as to not interfere with the wildness of the skirt, but elegant and accented enough to stand on its own. It was a fine line to balance, but I knew it could be done.
Fabrics-store.com offers a range of free sewing patterns to complement their bread-and-butter linen. To the shoestring costumer, ‘free’ is such an appealing word and so I downloaded the Agustina Boxy Top pattern to use with the pelagic blue velvet.

Agustina Boxy Top Pattern / Fabrics-store.com

While the pattern had its merits, my fabric wasn’t exactly the “suggested” material and therefore rendered the need for additional tailoring. Should I add darts ? No─ I had a better idea: create vaulted pleats pinched at the center front ! This produced the shorter-in-the-front, “scooped” crop top look I had dreamed in my head and after shortening the sleeves, I had an architectural masterpiece.

Shaping at the hips omitted the need for side seams while a back vent and coordinating zipper allowed for movement.

I fashioned a waist yoke with leftover linen from my Boris Gudonov sarafan and it was a perfect match in color and texture. Gorgeous !

Life isn’t always as expected. And although I missed Medea, I didn’t regret my couture ensemble that could rival the cover of any fashion-forward magazine. My only hope is that the theater’s satellite issues are resolved before the next transmission.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Lucia di Lammermoor: A “Mad” Bridal Tradition

Manners, manipulation, mysticism, and morbidity permeate Sir Walter Scott’s gothic novel of thwarted romance like a damp fog over the rugged Scottish Highlands. After an article recently published for suggested opera reading, I dove into a delightful immersive study of reading opera’s literary forerunners. “The Bride of Lammermoor” was near the top of my list since its theatric counterpart was due up for the Met’s 2021-2022 Live in HD season.

I loved the novel. Even with its gloomy pallor, I found myself pleasurably enveloped in the formality and class distinctions of the early 18th century Scottish setting. But how would the opera, slightly amended in its story and characters, fare against the benchmark book ─ especially with a radical, modern day-set production ?

Nadine Sierra in a promotional photo for Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera

Uncharacteristically for me, I was rather indifferent towards Simon Stone’s half opera/half movie production. Many parts of the story felt plausible in the present day Rust Belt setting while other stunts left me nonplussed. While both the action of the opera on stage and the cinematic video screen projection above were cleverly produced, I felt they would have been more effective as separate entities rather than interpolated within the same space (sensory overload !). Unquestionably, the singing was explosive ─ bel canto has a penchant for fireworks !

A scene from Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera

The outfit for Lucia was obvious: the famed “bloody” wedding gown from the Act III mad scene is so ubiquitously tied to the opera (regardless of the decade or production) that it’s almost clichéd.

Splattering scarlet paint over a delicate display of satin and lace wouldn’t allow me many opportunities for wearing the designated dress again, although the thought was tempting… especially since the gown worn in the new Met production looked uncannily similar to my mother’s actual wedding gown from 1987.

Fear not; I wouldn’t do that to my mother’s dress (or anyone else’s, for that matter). With a modern production and no prior hint to its styling, I decided I would take a more interpretative approach to the blood-stained garment while still keeping an oft-chanted bridal tradition.

Something Old

Gloves were originally not going to be part of my outfit, but yet as I studied the John Everett Millais painting, I realized it was fitting.

“The Bride of Lammermoor” by John Everett Millais (1878)

These gloves were given to me by a friend and neighbor, who used to wear them out and about in Wisconsin, as was the proper thing to do at the time. Thank you, Miss Johanna !

Something New

Because there was no possibility of saturating a real wedding gown in blood (or the likes thereof), I wanted to have something that was evocative of blood without actually looking like it. I’ve had my eye on a Vogue pattern for sophisticated bolero jackets for several years and knew I would use it to my bloody advantage. Initially aiming to sew the ¾ sleeve version with the pleated ruffles, I altered my plans when I came across an irresistible fabric deal: corded nylon lace with sequins ─ $2.99/yard. I bought five yards.
Changing styles was seamless since the bell flounce sleeves of View D reminded me of the 18th century, which directly mirrored the time in which the original story was set. (Note: I had my mother style my hair based off the images on the pattern envelope… so haute, so mad !!)

The way that the pattern was drafted, I needed to alter the length of the sleeves in order to have the flounce sit higher on my arm and not look so much like a 1970’s disco queen. Eight inches were subsequently removed from the sleeves, which gave me that 1700’s feel.

Something Borrowed

The dress I wore is very special because it played a starring role in someone else’s life. Charmingly, the white satin A-line gown employed to represent Lucia’s wedding gown was not intended for a bartered bride, but rather… a debutante !

My friend, Borden, wore this same gown in the early 2000’s when she made her debut. And after many years, it still looks great. Thank you, Borden !

Something Blue

And what would the bridal tradition be without Something Blue ?! Well, there was no question as to what that would be…

Bought for $16.99 at a resale store (thank you, Miss Michelle !), my royal blue and rhinestone studded stilettos steal the show wherever they make an appearance ─ from the “Pavarotti” documentary to Anna Netrebko’s Viennese concert. ‘Fabulous’ doesn’t even begin to describe their glamor.

My last opera of the 2021-2022 Live in HD season hit all the right notes. Indeed, it was a bloody mad time !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Lucia di Lammermoor ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1835)
Live in HD air date: May 21, 2022

Cast:
Lucia ─ Nadine Sierra
Edgardo ─ Javier Camarena
Enrico ─ Artur Ruciński
Raimondo ─ Christian Van Horn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Ricardo Frizza
Production ─ Simon Stone
Set Designer ─ Lizzie Clachan
Costume Designers ─ Alice Babidge and Blanca Añón
Lighting Designer ─ James Farncombe
Projection Designer ─ Luke Halls
Choreographer ─ Sara Erde
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Anthony Roth Costanzo

Turandot ─ My Favorite Opera

How much do I love Puccini’s final opera, Turandot ?

Well…

I own two complete recordings, which I listen to very often…

…have a poster in my room…

…and it has been rumored to be true that I’ve flown out of my bedroom like a bat when the sound of someone singing “Nessun dorma” on a television in an adjacent room wafted its way to my ear during the early part of slumber.

Yes, I love Turandot ─ the music, the armrest-gripping drama, the fiery passion all wrapped up in a splendid love story for the ages. It never gets old… neither do the chills and goosebumps I inevitably feel whenever listening to the opera. While these factors are not conducive to healing from adrenal fatigue, the liability never stops me from attending a performance, regardless of the cast.

Liudmyla Monastyrska (center) and Yonghoon Lee (left) in a scene from Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

Oddly, Turandot is one of the few operas that is not entirely dependent on the merits of the four principal leads (at least to me, anyway !). Rather, having an exceptionally vibrant chorus and a taut and affecting conductor on the stand makes the real difference. With that in mind, the orchestra and chorus shone as the brightest stars during this run of Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent production. But a mention should be made of the principal singers… instruction in Acting 101 would have been advisable for most of them. The icy princess was truly frozen and the blind man was discovered to be only intermittently blind as he readily anticipated his steps and conversations before they had begun. Oops !
Despite some hiccups, they were mostly rendered moot: the opera is always a winner !

An excerpt from the finale from Turandot (2009) / Metropolitan Opera

Zeffirelli’s Turandot production is a landmark. It’s so powerful in its impact on audiences that it’s been in existence at the Met for over 30 years. Why mess with perfection ?! This was the attitude I adopted as I contemplated what I would wear for Turandot 2022.
When I created my costume for Turandot 2019, I didn’t think I could top it. It’s glitzy, dramatic, and oh so Chinese. I didn’t see a reason why it shouldn’t be worn again. So that’s just what I did.

One element I tweaked for this particular Turandot was opting to wear my long black wig, which I donned for Madama Butterfly in 2019. With it, I felt even more like ‘la Principessa altera.’

Of course, my cardboard and wooden skewer headpiece had to make another appearance. It has taken a lot of wear and tear from the time since I first created the accessory in late 2015/early 2016, but there’s nothing a dab of Krazy Glue won’t fix !

This may have been my third trip to the theater to see Puccini’s posthumous piece, but I highly doubt I will ever become jaded by the opera. Festive excitement builds as the 100th anniversary of its premiere approaches in 2026. And I already have plans for a poster-inspired outfit to celebrate !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Turandot ─ Giacomo Puccini (1926)
Live in HD air date: May 7, 2022

Cast:
Turandot ─ Liudmyla Monastyrska
Calàf ─ Yonghoon Lee
Liù ─ Ermonela Jaho
Timur ─ Ferruccio Furlanetto

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marco Armiliato
Production ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designers ─ Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Choreographer ─ Chiang Ching
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra

Don Carlos

Verdi’s Don Carlos offers audiences a gripping spectacle of grand opera. With the backdrop of the 16th century Spanish court during the Inquisition, the pallor of death reigns over the piece with dark drama eking out from every crevice. Furthermore, the interpersonal relationships and the conflict between duty, love, and country offer opportunities for theatrical greatness. Uniquely, this occasion marked the first time in the Met’s history that the original five act French version of the opera was performed. It was nearly five hours long.

A scene from Don Carlos / Metropolitan Opera

Despite the long chair time, the opera carried enough interest to render it worthwhile. Each of the six principal characters was involved in a dynamic plot twist that was heightened by the thunderous orchestra and clever camera angles. The new production by David McVicar, whose work is admired by both traditionalists and innovators, was both edgy and elegant. Picking a favorite moment was tough. However, the end scene where Carlos perishes and the departed Rodrigue steps out of heavenly white light to lay his beloved friend to rest took my breath away. Well done !

Matthew Polenzani As Don Carlos, Jamie Barton as Princess Eboli, and Etienne Dupuis as Rodrigue / Metropolitan Opera

Don Carlos may have been a marathon, but the creation of my costume was not. In fact, it carried a moniker relating to its rapidity: “Two Week Tudor.” Immediately following the last opera, I began sewing my outfit for the next performance in two weeks.
Choosing a pattern that was simple and effective was vital for the time crunch ─ since I was familiar with Andrea Schewe’s Simplicity Tudor pattern (it had been at the forefront of my preparations for Maria Stuarda that was to take place in May 2020), I turned to the out-of-print pattern for a quick fix. With little time to sew fussy, intricate pieces, I opted for View B on the pattern envelope.

Simplicity 3782

Historical accuracy was not important as Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s Met costumes blended the semblance of the period with modern features, such as puff sleeves, shawl collars, and wrist cuffs…

During the cutting process of the main fabric, it became painfully obvious that there was not enough material to cut the entire dress. With the same material out of stock for the foreseeable future, I needed an alternate plan. Think, think, think ! And then, a lightbulb─ several years ago, I was given a bolt of upholstery fabric from my friends at the quilt shop, which I willingly accepted. My mother balked; taking others’ “stuff” to store at home is not one of my better habits. But something inside me knew that there would come a time of need for this autumnal printed bolt of fabric. Sure enough, there was.

Thank you, Miss Pat and Mr. Al !

Fortunately, I had a farthingale (hoopskirt) already made from my anticipation of Maria Stuarda. However, in my inexperience with sewing hoopskirts at the time, I foolishly used ½” wide steel hooping instead of a lighter weight ¼” hoop. Add into consideration the 12+ yards of material for the dress and then imagine sitting in a boxy movie theater seat for five hours while wearing it all. Shockingly, the entire dress, underskirt, and heavy hoopskirt only weighed around 8lbs.

With lots of gold jewelry and rings, I was suited up for the spectacle of the opera…

As serendipitous as the bolt of upholstery fabric was to the project, I was even more surprised by my mother’s reaction. The shape of the silhouette overlaid with the copious folds of woodsy fabric made her proclaim that it was the most beautiful dress I’ve ever made. Who would have guessed that something created out of necessity could have turned out so well ? As for the material that was set aside due to insufficient yardage, I have plans to revive it for the Italian version of Don Carlos in November. Hopefully, that performance won’t be quite as lengthy.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Don Carlos ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1867)
Live in HD air date: March 26, 2022

Cast:
Don Carlos ─ Matthew Polenzani
Élisabeth de Valois ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Princess Eboli ─ Jamie Barton
Rodrigue ─ Etienne Dupuis
Philippe II ─ Eric Owens
Grand Inquisitor ─ John Relyea
Monk ─ Matthew Rose

Credits:
Conductor ─ Patrick Furrer
Production ─ David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Movement Director ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Ariadne auf Naxos

If there is an opera that causes more bouts of stifled exasperation or muddled confusion than Ariadne auf Naxos, its title remains a mystery. The music─ sublime, the plot─ a headscratcher; Strauss’s “opera within an opera” elicits both “ahhs !” as well as “huhs ?!” At least, that’s how I felt when I viewed the opera as part of the Met’s free streaming that was offered when the house was dark.
Armed with the illuminating advantage of past experience, I had my reasons for attending this current Ariadne, but none greater than to see and hear Lise Davidsen as the prima donna/exiled goddess.

Lise Davidsen in Ariadne auf Naxos / Metropolitan Opera

With the voice of a titan and the face of a schoolgirl, there is little doubt that Lise is a star. Unleashing her full power during “Es gibt ein Reich” was like having a blast of thunder rattle your bones. An answer of satisfaction was given to the promulgated hype, but what took me by surprise was the caliber of the performances given by the other singers. Isabel Leonard’s frustrated idealism as the Composer won my fervent applause.

Isabel Leonard in Ariadne auf Naxos / Metropolitan Opera

Opera seria interpolated with an Italian farce sounds strange, but the plot of Ariadne auf Naxos was much clearer to me the second time around and really deserves a further listen. With the cast that performed and the resplendent orchestra of the Met, that task was highly agreeable.

A scene from Ariadne auf Naxos

Despite being the titular character of the opera, Ariadne is not that interesting of a leading lady. She’s weepy, melancholy, and a touch morbid over her present fate of lonesome exile. She may have a great aria, but for the most part, her character is just “blah” until Bacchus sails in and whisks her away to the heavens. However, there is a complete comic foil to Ariadne’s gloominess: the coquettish clown, Zerbinetta.

Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta and Lise Davidsen as Ariadne

When I watched the 2003 Ariadne auf Naxos with Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay, I was captivated by the spitfire vocalism and personality of the coloratura soprano, Zerbinetta. She steals the show, every time. In addition to her dynamic role, she also has the best costume in the whimsical Elijah Moshinsky production ─ harlequin from top to toe with 18th century embellishments. Who would want to play Ariadne when Zerbinetta’s character and outfit are so much fun ?! My costume choice was easy: harlequin, please !

I made everything about my outfit, excluding the tights and shoes. While it was one of the most labor-intensive projects I’ve completed to date, all the components played together into a kaleidoscopic array of FUN ! All that was needed was a little bit of sass…

As a creator, I love all my “children,” but this outfit, which started out as entirely white, was an especial favorite. And that hat ! Would you believe that it was made out of felt and cardstock ?! The cockade of feathers and tulle tufts solidified my look as uniquely “Zerbinetta.”

It was impossible not to be happy while wearing this outfit, at the same time seeing its double on the big screen. And it was impossible not to be enchanted by Strauss’s dreamy (and quirky) Ariadne auf Naxos.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For the ‘step-by-step’ on how I created Zerbinetta’s kaleidoscopic harlequin costume, check out the post below:
https://costumeclosetcouture.com/2022/04/04/diamonds-are-a-girls-best-friend-zerbinettas-harlequin-costume/

Cast and Credits:

Ariadne auf Naxos ─ Richard Strauss (1912)
Live in HD air date: March 12, 2022

Cast:
Ariadne ─ Lise Davidsen
Zerbinetta ─ Brenda Rae
Composer ─ Isabel Leonard
Bacchus ─ Brandon Jovanovich
Harlequin ─ Sean Michael Plumb
Music Master ─ Johannes Martin Kränzle
Major-Domo ─ Wolfgang Brendel

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marek Janowski
Production ─ Elijah Moshinsky
Set and Costume Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani

Art Deco Rigoletto

Even if you’ve never seen the opera Rigoletto, you are most likely familiar with the Verdi work by its famous, hummable aria, “La donna è mobile,” heard everywhere from TV commercials to Italian restaurants. While I had the chance of watching a Rat Pack, neon-bedecked, “Vegas” Rigoletto during the Met’s free streaming at the time of their shutdown, I still felt the need to see the opera “in person” at the theater, this time set in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s. Talk about a departure from 16th century Mantua !

Michael Mayer’s “Vegas” Rigoletto
Bartlett Sher’s “Weimar” Rigoletto

What struck me the most about the new Bartlett Sher Rigoletto were the parallels to Sher’s Met production of Otello: blocky sets that felt closed off to the audience and gave the appearance of hazardous movement among the singers (watch out for the columns !). Another exasperating comparison was the inability to distinguish the lead characters from the rest of the crowd. Both the Duke in Rigoletto and Otello wore the clothes of their compatriots, with little, insufficient distinction. The costumes for the men looked to be the same in both productions ─ perhaps the budget was snug ? Overall, I felt the Weimar production was too garish and dark and was left questioning… “What’s wrong with 16th century Mantua ?!”

I always knew what I would wear before I ever had a 20’s themed opera to attend. A few years back, a friend gave me a vintage black cashmere sweater with a cream fur collar and rhinestone buckle at the waist. The tag indicated its pedigree: “100% Cashmere, Made in Scotland.” It was an instant love affair. Musing over the garment brought to mind the Silent Film era and its actresses I had seen in movies. My vision of a pale pink charmeuse gown and a black wool cloche was the surest way to bring the sweater’s former glory back into the limelight. A flapper would agree…

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
Anita Page

Since I knew that I was going to wear a cashmere sweater, the last thing I wanted was a long sleeve dress. That narrowed down the field of patterns. Ultimately, Folkwear’s Tango Dress fit the bill of a sleeveless, Art Deco design for my Silent Film Star look. Mary Pickford, here I come !

Folkwear’s Tango Dress

Silk charmeuse and a gorgeous wool suiting tangoed their way to 1920’s perfection ! This was my first time making a real hat, not one out of cardboard or headbands, and Elsewhen Millinery’s pattern was just perfect. A silk taffeta band decorated the supple cloche. With expensive fabrics and elegant finishes, these garments and accessories definitely classified themselves as ‘Couture’ pieces.

The hardest part was working on my 1920’s “slouch.” (Ouch !)

Bundled in the warmth of the sweater, I was set for the cold January day. Only my feet were chilled. To fashion a Mary Jane style shoe, I safety pinned sewn strips of black linen to the inside of my regular black pumps. Effective, cheap, and temporary ─ no need to buy new shoes !

Nearly everyone I meet fawns over the fan purse I crocheted specifically for this opera. And the best part ? The cotton lining material is printed with opera glasses ! How neat is that ?!

An Art Deco Rigoletto allowed me to venture into a decade that has never suited my fashion tastes. But as with most bouts of historical costuming, I gained an appreciation and greater attraction to the bias-cut drop waist dresses of the time. I can’t say that the same treatment applied to Rigoletto was as appealing.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rigoletto ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1851)
Live in HD air date: January 29, 2022

Cast:
Rigoletto ─ Quinn Kelsey
Gilda ─ Rosa Feola
Duke of Mantua ─ Piotr Beczała
Maddalena ─ Varduhi Abrahamyan
Sparafucile ─ Andrea Mastroni

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Rustioni
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard

Boris Godunov

Opera is back at the Met for the 2021-2022 season with its Live in HD opener, Boris Godunov, a Pushkin-based Russian opera about a dubious tsar and the haunting of his rise to power. To scale down production, this was the first time that the Met performed the opera in its original 1869 format, which had obvious distinctions: no leading lady, no intermissions.

A scene from Boris Godunov / Metropolitan Opera

Due to technical difficulties at the theater, our local audience missed the first 20-30 minutes of the performance and was left to mentally piece together the fragmented story. An inauspicious omen for the opera ? I think so… Truth be told, the opera felt disjointed ─ whether due to the composer’s intentions or the abbreviated simulcast narrative, I can’t be sure. While I was disappointed in the latter, I went for the Russian language experience and René Pape and was duly rewarded by each. And as a bonus, the audience was compensated with free tickets and a free small popcorn for the inconvenience. Nice !

As there was no central female character in this version of Boris Godunov, I had to get creative with my outfit. Intriguingly, it was the Russian people that provided the influx of inspiration. I wanted to be a peasant (or serf) and knew just what I would wear…

Folkwear 128 Russian Settlers’ Dress

The sarafan is a traditional Russian folk dress popularized by peasants, but was also worn by the dignified in the imperialist regime. Typically worn with a loose shirt and apron, the jumper can be made as plain or as fancy as a seamstress wishes. Since my aim was to look poor and deplete on the outstretching Steppes, I left much of the red washed linen and cream double gauze as unadorned as possible.

This was my first time using a Folkwear pattern, which has long been on my sewing wish list. Included in the packet were detailed instructions on how to modify (or modernize) the traditional style of the garment as well as helpful information for embroidering the shoulders of the blouse. I opted to gather the back of my sarafan and stitched matching ribbon to hold the fabric in place.

A scarf from my mother’s dresser drawer transformed into a babushka tied around my head and the single braid trailing down my back.

Although I was thrilled with my authentic creation, someone else was not… “You need to throw that out right after you wear it; it’s AWFUL !!!!!” wailed my mother as I walked out dressed in full costume. She grimaced and turned away after every press of the camera button ─ it’s a wonder I even got any pictures to share !

As (un)flattering as the sarafan may have been, it was the perfect outfit for an opera where the peasantry plays a major role. I just wish I had been able to see the entire opera !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Boris Godunov ─ Modest Mussorgsky (1869)
Live in HD air date: October 9, 2021

Cast:
Boris Godunov ─ René Pape
Grigory ─ David Butt Phillip
Shuisky ─ Aleksey Bogdanov
Pimen ─ Ain Anger
Varlaam ─ Ryan Speedo Green

Credits:
Conductor ─ Sebastian Weigle
Production ─ Stehpen Wadsworth
Set Designer ─ Ferdinand Wögerbauer
Costume Designer ─ Moidele Bickel
Lighting Designer ─ Duane Schuler
Fight Director ─ Steve Rankin
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Angel Blue

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