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

Così fan tutte

“All women are like that…” so says the cynical Don Alfonso to his naïve friends as he demonstrates the fickleness of the fair sex… But is the assumption ─ that women are bound to stray from their lovers if given the chance ─ an accurate claim ?

While sometimes considered outdated for modern society, Mozart’s piquant comedy about the test of fidelity through trickery was nothing but a delight to me. Lesley Koenig’s picturesque production was understated and elegant and the cast was just as pretty, especially the two lovestruck sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, played by Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard. With their dark brown hair and fair complexions, it wasn’t a stretch to believe them to be blood relatives.

Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte / Metropolitan Opera

Their fiancés were adorable. Ferrando and Guglielmo (such strange names in this opera ─ Fiordiligi, Guglielmo…) were so smitten with the sisters that their giggles and giddiness reminded me of teenage boys with their first crush. Even while disguised as Arab sheikhs their bubbling enthusiasm for their sweethearts couldn’t be stifled.

Danielle de Niese as Despina, Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando, Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo, and Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte / Metropolitan Opera

The thalassic score accompanied the harmonious singing like a sigh floating on a breeze and the lighthearted moments of comedy were balanced with some introspective seriousness. If I had one complaint about Così, it’s that it’s a tad too long: I walked out of the theater just after 11 p.m. from a 7 p.m. start time. However, the decision to travel over an hour and a half to catch the summer encore of Così fan tutte was well worth the late evening drive.

A scene from Così fan tutte / Metropolitan Opera

Since Così is a cute, zany opera, I thought a dress of a similar description would be the perfect outfit for the summer encore. Best of all, I didn’t have to look beyond my mother’s closet for the answer. Like me, my mother used to sew many of her clothes and thankfully she has kept nearly all of her dresses and jumpers from the 1970’s and 80’s. One of my favorites is the black and white polka dot dress with dropped waist and puff sleeves that fits me well. I even found the original pattern in the worn, bulging cardboard pattern box… Dress #2 at the bottom of the envelope was obviously the intended look my mother desired…

Simplicity 9446 circa 1989

Keeping it classy with pearls, long gloves, and a ladylike chignon, I was decked out for the escapades of Mozart’s Battle of the Sexes.

The opera’s finale was a happy one and the men married their betrothed. But back to the all important question: were the women faithful to their fiancés ? No. Did I care ? Hardly ! All’s well that ends well ─ the opera was too charming not to forgive and forget.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Così fan tutte ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1790)
Live in HD air date: April 26, 2014
(Encore seen: July 21, 2016)

Cast:
Ferrando ─ Matthew Polenzani
Guglielmo ─ Rodion Pogossov
Fiordiligi ─ Susanna Phillips
Dorabella ─ Isabel Leonard
Don Alfonso ─ Maurizio Muraro
Despina ─ Danielle de Niese

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Lesley Koenig
Set and Costume Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer ─ Duane Schuler
Stage Director ─ Robin Guarino
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

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

Idomeneo

The brainchild of a 24-year-old Mozart in the spring of his career, Idomeneo embodies drama and torment on an intense scale. A Trojan captive bemoans her plight of wartime displacement. A runaway Grecian princess seethes with humiliation and jealousy from unrequited feelings. A father and king, crossed between the angry seas ─ and even angrier gods ─ suffers from the anguish of the cruel task that besets him.

A scene from Mozart’s Idomeneo / Metropolitan Opera

While the basis of the plot was heavy ─ the title king, after being saved by the gods during a disastrous storm at sea, must kill his own son as recompense ─ the music was quite the opposite. Comprised of a windswept coterie of strings and woodwinds, the score was typically Mozartian and showed the beginnings of his lauded career. Singing the trills of early Mozart was made to look easy as Matthew Polenzani gave a stirring performance as the king. His voice was unhampered, but his soul was not.

Matthew Polenzani singing an excerpt from “Fuor del mar” from Idomeneo / Metropolitan Opera

The women provided for some much needed romantic rivalry to break up the repetitious monotony of the staid opera seria format. It’s true─ the opera was far too longwinded and soporific for my withering patience as I reached my home well after 6 that evening. At least the textured costumes and the spastic mad scene provided ample attraction and distraction from my jadedness.

Loosely based on the lace and jewels of Elettra’s gown, I snagged a favorite from my mother’s closet and made a simple alteration. The bright blue dress, being 8 sizes too big for me, would have swamped my figure more than the devouring seas of Idomeneo. A simple fix, I ran a line of baste stitches up the back of the dress and, voilà ! The dress fit. My mother was horrified with my action, let me tell you, but I assured her the stitching could easily be removed as I promptly pulled out the threads after the opera was over and the pictures captured.

My headpiece was a borrowed transformation. Previously, the black glittered tiara sported red rhinestones along the top points and an attached piece of black lace.

Thank you, Aunt Countess !

First popping out the red rhinestones, I replaced them with standard white ones and added gold fan sequins for seaside flare. They coordinated with my dress and the mantilla was beautiful enough for a princess. In case you were wondering, I removed all the sequins and replaced the original red jewels before I returned the accessory to its rightful owner.

Isn’t that necklace fabulous ? It’s a Metropolitan Museum of Art (also affectionately nicknamed “the Met”) replica given to me as a present from Aunt Countess. I cherish gifts from travels afar, much like the shell necklace and pashmina shawl that I wore to The Pearl Fishers the previous year. While New York City isn’t as far-flung as ancient Crete, the necklace made a statement worthy of Elettra’s tempered fury and Mozart’s fledgling opera.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Idomeneo ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1781)
Live in HD air date: March 25, 2017

Cast:
Idomeneo ─ Matthew Polenzani
Idamante ─ Alice Coote
Ilia ─ Nadine Sierra
Elettra ─ Elza van den Heever
Arbace ─ Alan Opie

Credits:
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Set and Costume Designer ─ Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Live in HD Director ─ Barbara Willis Sweete
Host ─ Eric Owens

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

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