Roberto Devereux

From the sextet of wives belonging the brutishly fickle Henry VIII to the bloody tug-of-war between Catholicism and Protestantism, the Tudor period in history is a meaty bone of tumult and fascination. The drama of the time must have captured Donizetti’s mind as well: his trilogy of Tudor operas is a tour-de-force for singers and a favorite haunt for acting potential. And so, here I was, at the finale of my first opera season, with the opportunity to see a spectacle of costumes and make-up prowess.

Sondra Radvanovsky in a promotional photo for Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera

The buzz around this performance of Roberto Devereux was Sondra Radvanovsky’s daring run at the Tudor Triple Crown ─ she performed all three of the Donizetti Tudor queens in one season to riotous acclaim. However, I found more appeal in the light Italian strings of the overture than the flapping voice of Radvanovsky. Furthermore, the duets and trios were the hallmark in this opera, especially with the creamy-toned Elīna Garanča and the drama surrounding her character (caught between her husband and her forbidden love for the Queen’s favorite suitor).

More than anticipated, the make-up was sensational, undoubtedly its very best on Sondra Radvanovsky’s aged Elizabeth. The perfectly coiffed paprika peruke was doffed at the opera’s end to reveal a withering white fray of “natural” hair that was a remarkable feat of theatrical trickery.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera

Moving onto the costumes, I knew this opera would feature extremely intricate pieces that were beyond my scope of sewing skills. I did, after all, just teach myself to sew almost 6 weeks earlier for when I needed an outfit for Madame Butterfly. What was I to do ? An offhanded observation of Tudor portraits easily pointed out the garment of ubiquity, the ruff. Oh, yes, I MUST have a ruff, but a different kind of ruff… “Tudor Couture on the Cheap !”

Something that was crafty and unique was in order and the first thing I wanted to tweak was the color of the ruff. Instead of a glaring white starched collar, I imagined a more earthy accessory to compliment the neutral colors of the outfit I had planned to wear. Configuring the ruff was crucial: who would want to wear an all encompassing collar, especially when sitting in one of the high backed chairs of the theater ? No, that wouldn’t do. Rather, I opted for an open ruff, one that swooped around the back neckline and left the chest exposed.

Much better.

Now for the construction… Since sewing was out of the question, I devised a plan to use a large cardboard pizza round and cut away part of the front for the neck and chest opening, which worked well. But the most extraordinary feature of the ruff was the actual “ruffle” material: unbleached coffee filters ! With their curly edges and cost effective efficiency, the coffee filters were perfect when artfully folded and glued onto the pizza round. Both the top and bottom of the cardboard round were layered with the filters and attached using hot glue. All that was left was to glue two inward facing clothespins to the undersides of the ruff near the front points and I now had an accessory worthy of the Tudors.

Alas, I misjudged the back protrusion ─ throughout the day in the theater, I was forced to sit with my head bent downward and forward because of the ruff’s extended back edge. By the curtain call, I had a crick in my neck.

With my first opera season in the books, I unclipped the paper ruff and admired its beauty and ingenuity… but not its discomfort.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Roberto Devereux ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1837)
Live in HD air date: April 16, 2016

Cast:
Queen Elizabeth ─ Sondra Radvonovsky
Roberto Devereux ─ Matthew Polenzani
Sara, Duchess of Nottingham ─ Elīna Garanča
Duke of Nottingham ─ Mariusz Kwiecien

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Sir David McVicar
Costume Designer ─ Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt

L'Elisir d'Amore

Love potions and promises of love. A snookered bumpkin, a wealthy proprietress, and… a bottle of Bordeaux ? Rife with hijinks and hilarity, it’s hard not to love Donizetti’s bubbly comedy. As a part of the Met’s “Summer Encores” series, the biggest draw to this past performance of L’Elisir d’Amore was its stellar cast. And therefore, the decision to make the long trip to a distant theater to see Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani perform was an easy one.

Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

Did I mention that L’Elisir was funny ? So hilarious was Matthew Polenzani’s “drunk” scene that I was half bent out of my seat, cackling with laughter. The sweat that poured from Nemorino’s brow as he danced around the town square with his magic “elixir of love” was enough to fill a bucket ! Surreptitiously, Matthew Polenzani dropped to the floor in an act of pleading desperation while furtively taking the moment to wipe his perspiring hands (and nearly his drenched head !) on the stationary skirt of Anna Netrebko’s lingering Adina ─ a clever improvisation. Too bad the snooty people in the theater could not see the comedy of the ruse… they barely chuckled ! Stiff crowd, but nothing could spoil my amusement.

Anna Netrebko as Adina and Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

I should say that amid all the chicanery and cavorting, the opera ended in the manner in which all comedies must wrap: with a wedding and a happy outcome ! No one ever weeps by the end of a Donizetti bel canto romp.

Anna Netrebko as Adina, Mariusz Kwiecien as Belcore, and Ambrogio Maestri as Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

Adina, the opera’s heroine, is a wealthy landowner in the Basque region of France. In Bartlett Sher’s entertaining (and characteristically quirky) production, her attire consists of a peasant blouse, underbust corset, skirt, crop jacket with tails, and occasional top hat.

Mariusz Kwiecien as Belcore and Anna Netrebko as Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

While the underbust corset and top hat were out of the question with such short notice, I felt I could pull together a knock-off look with garments I already had in my closets… and so I did ! The coral crinkle skirt has been in my mother’s closet for ages… who would have thought that it would be perfectly suitable for Adina ? And although my brown shawl can’t claim to be a crop jacket with tails, it certainly added to the coordinating color scheme of the model outfit worn in the opera.

But the real story belongs to the sashed blouse…

In 2004, my mother and I were bridesmaids in my aunt’s Colorado wedding where we wore matching peach satin skirts and ivory blouses with pearl buttons. Even as the years have passed, the two identical blouses have remained burrowed deep in our closets. Unsurprisingly, my original child’s blouse no longer fits… that is, unless I wanted to dress like Britney Spears from her “…Baby One More Time” music video.

Britney Spears in her “…Baby One More Time” music video

Maybe some other time…

For now, my mother’s blouse fits me fine and recalls to mind memories of my aunt’s autumn wedding day in Steamboat Springs. Here’s what the blouse looked like when paired with the peach skirt:

Look, 303 ! Doesn’t this bring back memories ?

A bridesmaid’s blouse worn as a costume to the opera ? That almost sounds like a crafty trick from L’Elisir d’Amore !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

L’Elisir d’Amore ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1832)
Live in HD air date: October 13, 2012
(Encore seen: June 29, 2016)

Cast:
Adina ─ Anna Netrebko
Nemorino ─ Matthew Polenzani
Belcore ─ Mariusz Kwiecien
Dulcamara ─ Ambrogio Maestri

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─ Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Jennifer Tipton
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt

Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Set in a modern day Ceylon, the Met’s new revival of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles was a delightfully exotic romance of uncharacteristic story standards. Penny Woolcock’s production perfectly mingled the secular with the sacred, the grime with the gilt, and enchanted me from start to finish.
The shanty fishing village with its rickety cardboard and tin hovels added a realistic element to the production as did the mix of costumes on the chorus members: while some were dressed in filthy baseball caps and torn overshirts, others bedecked themselves in saris and turbans, just as Southeast Asian tradition dictates.

A scene from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles / Metropolitan Opera

This opera was a beautiful escape from start to finish. The music perfumed the theater and left a trailing scent as the curtain descended. I especially loved the enchanting tenor/baritone duet, “Au fond du temple saint”.

Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien sing an excerpt from “Au fond du temple saint” / Metropolitan Opera

While the romance of The Pearl Fishers may have started as a typical opera love triangle, the ending was anything but conventional: the man who kept his promise and was faithful to his honor lost everything and the traitorous one, escaping death with the defiled priestess, made out like a bandit. All elements combined, I loved this opera so much that I went to see the encore showing the following Wednesday.

Diana Damrau as Leïla in Les Pêcheurs de Perles / Metropolitan Opera

My outfit is one crafted from my closet. Modeling in front of my bedroom mirror, I experimented with different scarves and skirts to come up with an Indian subcontinent look.
Layer upon layer the outfit built itself into a makeshift “sari” that was instantly recognizable by its onlookers. (Weeks after The Pearl Fishers encore, I once again stepped into the far off theater location for the encore showing of Turandot. There I was greeted with inquisitive queries from strangers of vague familiarity: “Were you the one dressed as the Indian the last time ?”)

Of course, I knew I needed to accessorize with gobs of pearls in every shape and size, but also rings of topaz and bangles of gold. The crowning touch was my matha patti headpiece, which was reworked from a cheap, broken necklace.

I think my favorite aspects of this outfit are the ones that came from far away lands ─ the teal and aqua fringed pashmina wrap was bartered at a local market in Afghanistan while the cowrie shell necklace traveled from Tanzania (thank you, Uncle Kim, for the precious gifts !). Just think ─ the shells around my neck came from the Indian Ocean, just like the pearls in the opera !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Les Pêcheurs de Perles ─ Georges Bizet (1863)
Live in HD air date: January 16, 2016

Cast:
Leïla ─ Diana Damrau
Nadir ─ Matthew Polenzani
Zurga ─ Mariusz Kwiecien
Nourabad ─ Nicolas Testé

Credits:
Conductor ─ Gianandrea Noseda
Production ─ Penny Woolcock
Set Designer ─ David Bird
Costume Designer ─ Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer ─ Jen Schriever
Projection Design ─ Fifty Nine Productions
Live in HD Director ─ Matthew Diamond
Host ─ Patricia Racette