Sequin Mail: Drafting a Cowl Neck “Chainmail” Tunic

When I began devising my plans for a complete “Wagnerian” outfit to wear to the Met concert celebrating the legendary German composer, I knew I wanted to include some sort of chainmail aspect to represent Medieval knights, which are so gallantly (and infamously) portrayed in many of Wagner’s operas. A showpiece necklace from Afghanistan was at the top of my list.

Thank you, Aunt Countess and Uncle Kim !

However, I struggled to devise the rest of the outfit due to the very specific nature of the necklace. And so, I looked beyond my closet and found a mesh fabric with matte silver sequin paillettes sewn onto its entire face for a reasonable price online.

Looking through historical fashion plates gave me the idea of imitating the drape of chainmail coifs (hooded headwear), but I didn’t want a full suit of armor. No, a simple, sleeveless cowl neck tunic was my intention…

And excerpt from “Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume” by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach
And excerpt from “Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume” by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach

While there were many patterns on the web for cowl neck tops, I didn’t like any of them ! Therefore, I decided to draft a pattern on my own using newspaper. There’s a wealth of knowledge out on the web for creating patterns and this article was particularly insightful in helping me create my cowl: https://www.threadsmagazine.com/2013/11/18/how-to-create-a-draped-cowl-neckline

Preliminary pattern pieces

After several knit mock-ups, I began what I thought would be a messy cutting process and prepped my work area with black garbage bags before tediously snipping around the sequins. Spoiler alert: hardly any sequins fell from the fabric !

The mesh selvedge was suitable enough for the facing so I placed the upper part of the front pattern piece on top of the mesh. What a time saver !

The sequins along the seamlines were promptly picked off to avoid getting caught under the sewing machine needle before I stitched the two sides together. Ta-da !

At this point, the tunic was too long. A bib hem seemed like the perfect solution to mimic the drape of the cowl neck…

Drafting a hem piece was easy enough, however, in hindsight, it would have been better to eliminate all the “place on fold” edges and create full sized pattern pieces; cutting was a one-side-at-a-time job and flipping the uncut sides distorted the shape of the pieces somewhat.

Helpful hint: to check how the lines/curves of a foldline piece will look when doubled, place a mirror next to the edge of the pattern piece and examine its full shape.

I paired my sequin tunic with faux leather pants using StyleArc’s Margaret pattern, a too-tight disaster that was salvaged by the longer hem of the tunic ! Whew !

StyleArc’s Margaret Pant

And what would a Wagnerian-inspired outfit be without a Ring ? Although it wasn’t fashioned from the gold of the Rhine, this antique pearl ring belonged to a relative of mine.

While modern, my outfit gave me the right representation of Wagnerian interpretation. I also learned that pattern drafting wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Hojotoho !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Wagnerians in Concert

Over the years, I have found that the more I am exposed to Wagner, the more I love it. It’s complex, lush, and completely absorbing if given the right circumstances. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who harbors a cultish hankering for Wagnerian music. And so, off to Chris’s we go for another Met Stars Live in Concert series !

Broadcast live from the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany, the grand foyer proved to be one of the most gorgeous settings for a concert with the lighting shifting to fit the mood of each song. Although the program was not entirely Wagnerian (a thimbleful of R. Strauss was thrown into the mix), the quartet of Elza van den Heever, Christine Goerke, Andreas Schager, and Michael Volle made the most of the arias and duets… and the staircases ! There was a choreographed sequence of how the singers would enter and exit to avoid cutting into the next performance all while capitalizing on the thespian potential of the Neo-Baroque architecture.

The Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany

The greatest (and most accurate) of these tableaux came during the penultimate number with Elza van den Heever and Christine Goerke acting out the duet from Act II of Lohengrin, complete with balcony betrayal. Juicy !

The Cuisine

Our afterparty fare was a European hodgepodge of Gruyère and Bleu, open faced canapés, sauerkraut salad (similar to Korean kimchi), Riesling, and… banana bread. Well, it was almost European.

The recipe for the banana bread is an adapted version of Cookie and Kate’s Whole Wheat Banana Bread with maple syrup as the sweetener (and butter in place of the oil). For years it has been one of my go-to staples for a “No White Flour, No White Sugar” treat. Thanks, Kate !

The Clothes

In thinking of a Wagnerian-inspired outfit, several elements came to mind:
1) Medieval gowns with long, wide sleeves
2) Knights in chainmail
3) Leather, lots of leather

Each of these characteristics can usually be observed during a typical Wagnerian opera. However, I wanted to create a more modern look and sought to avoid the following fashion pitfalls insomuch as looking like a:
1) Gothic punk
2) Biker
3) Cosplayer

A challenge, indeed. Leaving the angel sleeves behind, the rest of my outfit gave me just the right combination of Wagnerian features with a completely modern appeal.

The outfit and the concert were a terrific celebration and reminder of why I enjoy Wagner so much: drama and beauty intertwined as the complete work of art.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

How exactly did I create my sequin tunic ? The answers can be found in my accompanying tutorial post: http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2021/05/29/sequin-mail-drafting-a-cowl-neck-chainmail-tunic/

Cast and Credits

Wagnerians in Concert
Hessisches Staatstheater
Wiesbaden, Germany
Live broadcast date: May 8, 2021
(Date seen: May 20, 2021)

Elza van den Heever ─ soprano
Christine Goerke ─ soprano
Andreas Schager ─ tenor
Michael Volle ─ bass-baritone
Craig Terry ─ piano

Designing a Diva: Dress Inspired by Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko is a bona fide diva. She has the pipes to blast the roof off a building, the meticulous technique and luster a good singer could only wish to achieve, and the histrionic ability that could put any Hollywood A-lister to shame. She’s also very beautiful. Aside talent and looks, one of the greatest semblances of a diva is a wardrobe of couture designer gowns and shoes. And Anna Netrebko is no exception !

As the concert for Anna Netrebko neared last summer, my mind was set on creating a true “diva” gown─ something that was as stunning as Anna herself. But where to begin ? Firstly, I browsed online and then on Anna Netrebko’s Instagram account in search of clues. Although she has worn many different styles of dresses, I noticed a reoccurrence of strapless gowns in bold colors and patterns.

Even for her wedding to Yusif Eyvazov in December 2015 Anna chose to wear a strapless gown…

Strapless it is. Now for the colors…

Interestingly, a post on Anna’s Instagram account pointed to the reasoning behind her selection of bright colors for concert and gala gowns: she rarely wears black on stage since it blends in with the orchestra’s attire and the audience wouldn’t be able to see her from afar. Brilliant ! As for me, I had a different motive for choosing colors. I wanted to use up a portion of my fabric “stash” and recalled the bright fuchsia satin I used for my Dalila gown in 2018. The remnants of the hot pink satin totaled to less than 2 yards. A sheath style with high thigh slit seemed inevitable. But what else ? Reaching for other fabrics in my stash, I tested different color combinations until I hit the mark: fuchsia and royal blue ! Since the duo made a mesmerizing pair, the idea of a dramatic lace overlay tickled my fancy. Grab your sunglasses before you read any further !

I purchased 2 yards of both lace and stretch charmeuse satin for the lining (yes, I wanted to use up my stash and not add to it, but sometimes it’s not always possible) and cut my patterns for the strapless sheath with not an inch to spare !

Constructing the lining was straightforward: I interfaced the pieces, sewed on Rigilene boning, added interior lacing panels for the corset, and padded the bust. Time for a fitting !

Enormous, just right, skin tight ─ the dress was a mess ! After all, what’s dressmaking without some mishaps along the way ? Alterations were made and the slit jettisoned: a new silhouette had to created to compensate for the unwalkable bottom half of the dress. A triangular gore was inserted into the back of the dress, but for the lining only ! The idea of a chiffon train floated in my mind…

After tweaking the bodice, it was time for the lace application. I pinned the zipperless gown on my dress form and began the process of manipulating the lace, especially in the bust dart area.

Sew far, sew good ! No, really ─ there was A LOT of sewing with this dress because of the lace. I spent days securing the majority of the motifs onto the pink satin, first “stitched in the ditch” along the princess seams and then elsewhere. Thankfully, I had a great slanted zigzag stitch to use on my Baby Lock machine.
With the upper portion of the dress complete, I repeated the lace application on the lower half of the gown ─ more sewing…!

The wrong side of the face after sewing on the lace

A week later, I sewed on a ruched sash with the help of this tutorial: https://mamamadeit.blogspot.com/2011/03/ruched-satin-taffeta-sash.html Thank you, Mama !
The gathered ends were capped with a folded strip of satin and hooks and eyes were sewn on the underside.

During the last stages of sewing and fitting, I realized the train was unrealistic. For one, I couldn’t squeeze myself into the dress during the final fitting and had to rework the back gore, slashing it into two. Fortunately, I was able to scrounge up enough fuchsia satin in the scrap bag to cut two identical gores. Once they were sewn onto the dress, the fit was better. However, the light and sheer chiffon just didn’t seem like a cohesive match when placed next to the adjacent sturdy and thick guipure lace; elegance is best personified in simplicity.

Despite the rescheduled concert date (February instead of October) the dress was perfectly suited for the mild weather and everything I had hoped for it to be, especially when accessorized with an abundance of pink organza. It was a diva’s dream !

I knew white rhinestones would be my accent color and the shoes were one of my main inspirations. They were last worn to the Pavarotti documentary in 2019. Bling, bling !

The lace was so pretty with its edges peeking above the neckline of the dress. Now, if I only had a big, sparkly diamond necklace to show off…

…like Anna !

Anna Netrebko is a muse for generations to come. And while I cannot compare myself to the caliber of a world-class soprano, my couture concert dress certainly gave me a taste of the fame and fashion of a true diva.

Toi, Toi, Toi,
Mary Martha

Diva du Jour ─ Anna Netrebko Live in Concert

“Diva assoluta del mondo.” “Prima donna.” “Showstopper.” Regardless of how you choose to phrase your expressions, the fact of the matter remains constant: Anna Netrebko is the World’s Reigning Diva. She is also my favorite singer. And so, when the time came for Anna Netrebko to be featured in the Met Stars Live in Concert series, there was no question that I would be watching.

Cleverly, the program was divided into Day and Night art songs ─ the first portion floated with some of Anna’s Russian repertoire calling cards while the latter half was devoted to darkness. While most of the selections were enjoyable (most ─ Debussy’s “Il pleur dans mon cœur” sparked the need for an antidepressant), I couldn’t help but wish for an injection of opera somewhere into the set list. Art songs can only be sustained for so long, even with Pavel Nebolsin’s nuanced piano playing…
What was delightful, however, was the addition of mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova to complete two duets. The girls were a pretty sight together and their Venetian masks worn in part for Offenbach’s Bacarolle painted a portrait of pure whimsy.

Anna Netrebko and Elena Maximova singing “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amore”

The Cuisine

The Spanish Riding School offered an extraordinary venue for a concert. And its host city, Vienna, became the inspiration for the food. Anne’s cheese platter contained a mix of Muenster, Manchego, and Danish Blue. Something German, something Spanish, and something as blue as the Danube. Brava, Anne !

Chris’s canapes were a work of art ! Open faced sandwiches never looked better…

And what would an opera concert be without some bubbly imbibement ? From the bordering hills of Italy, I supplied a bottle of Prosecco.

But Vienna is probably best known for its renowned dessert: Sachertorte ! Who would of thought that a simple chocolate cake could be heightened to extraordinary levels by a smearing of tangy apricot jam and a bathing of velvety ganache ? Okay, that’s not too much of a profound pondering. We all had seconds !

Sachertorte

The Clothes

While the storied city of Vienna may have supplied the inspiration for the food, it was Anna Netrebko herself who became the muse for my outfit. As a bona fide diva, Anna Netrebko wears gowns worth dying for. My research began by browsing online images of Anna’s past concert and gala gowns. The results led me to two conclusions: Anna Netrebko loves bright colors and bold styles. Other noticeable features were the repetitions of strapless gowns with coordinating waistband sashes. Using these as my standards, I set out to create a “Diva” dress, glam and all.

Bright colors ? Check ! Bold style ? You be the judge…!

My “Diva” gown, accentuated by an abundant organza stole, made me feel like I had stepped onto a Hollywood red carpet ! More appropriately, it fit the mold of my all-time favorite diva, Anna Netrebko ─ “la diva assoluta del mondo.”

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha


Surely, you must want to know more about my jaw-dropping dress, right ? Details of its conception and completion can be found here: http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2021/03/09/designing-a-diva-dress-inspired-by-anna-netrebko/

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Anna Netrebko
Spanish Riding School
Vienna, Austria
Live broadcast date: February 6, 2021
(Date seen: February 18, 2021)

Anna Netrebko ─ soprano
Elena Maximova ─ mezzo-soprano
Pavel Nebolsin ─ piano

Bavarian Apple Torte

Shoved deep in my mother’s old decoupage recipe box is a brown splattered index card with instructions written on front and back. In the time leading up to fancy dinner parties or special occasions, the card was always sought with expediency. That prized recipe was for Bavarian Apple Torte and originally came from my great grandmother, who was of direct German descent.

My great-grandmother, Claire

When the occasion arose for Jonas Kaufmann’s concert in Bavaria, there was no better choice than the regionally appropriate dessert for our small watch party. And now I’m sharing the favorite recipe below in case you need a simply elegant dessert to impress your guests or have an insatiable hankering to visit Bavaria.

Ingredients

Crust:
½ C butter
¼ tsp. vanilla
1/3 C sugar
1 C flour

Filling:
1- 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
¼ C sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla

Topping:
1/3 C sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon (or more — ¾ – 1 tsp.)
4 C peeled apple slices (any kind)
¼ C sliced almonds

Instructions

Cream butter, vanilla, and 1/3 cup of sugar. Blend in flour. Spread dough onto bottom and sides of springform pan.
(*For easier cleanup, I place a sheet of parchment paper over the bottom of the springform pan and secure it with the metal ring that goes on top. This helps the torte slide off the pan if you do not want the metal bottom of the pan going to an event or if you are giving the torte as a gift.)

Parchment paper covering the pan

Combine softened cream cheese and ¼ cup of sugar; mix well. Add egg and ½ tsp vanilla. Mix and pour into pastry lined pan.

The crust and the filling

Combine 1/3 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Toss apple slices in sugar and cinnamon mixture. Spoon apple mixture over cream cheese layer. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake 10 minutes at 450°F. Reduce heat to 400°F. Continue baking for 25 minutes. Note: Cover with foil if needed so almonds don’t burn too much, about 10-15 minutes before done.
Cool. Remove rim of pan and slide onto serving plate, leaving bottom of springform underneath torte.
Top with whipped cream, whipped with a little sugar.

Enjoy !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Welsh Winter: Bryn Terfel Live in Concert

Listening to Bryn Terfel is like stepping into a vast, storied library: you’re not entirely sure what you will discover, but you undoubtedly know it will be a rich experience full of wonder and abundant surprises. In an ode to the Christmas season, my friends and I gathered to watch Bryn and an assembly of varied musicians perform a concert entirely composed of Christmas carols from the Brecon Cathedral in Wales.

Natalya Romaniw, Bryn Terfel, and Trystan Llŷr Griffiths performing at Brecon Cathedral in Wales / Metropolitan Opera

Traditional and contemporary alike, the carols were sung with joy and charisma. Bryn’s infectious charm and playful personality twinkled like the stars in the night sky while his generosity was clearly evident: invited to perform with Bryn were two young Welsh singers along with the eclectic folk group, Calan. Joined by the talents of pianist Jeffery Howard and harpist (and Bryn’s wife) Hannah Stone, the gang delivered a program full of spirit and hope; my favorites included the multilingual “Still, Still, Still”, Ivor Novello’s “I Can Give You Starlight”, and the harmonious “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to close the concert.

Bryn Terfel performing “I Can Give You Starlight” / Metropolitan Opera

The Cuisine

Our food was partly a throwback to previous concert gatherings─ with an assortment of cheese and charcuterie, I almost felt like I was back at the Jonas Kaufmann concert in July…

Anne’s exquisite cheese platter

…and Jayne’s sparkling rosé was also poured during our French Riviera fête in August…

But the Welsh addition came in the form of Chris’s Pwdin Eva, a kind of apple cobbler…

The food was tastefully presented and shared by musically minded friends. Cheers !

The Clothes

When I think of Wales, my mind is drawn to craggy coasts and rugged landscapes dotted with sheep and sturdy kinfolk, both equipped to survive the battered climates of Great Britain. Although the skies are often painted a dreary gray, the bright red dragon atop the green and white striped national flag belies any sort of unpleasant regional weather.

Flag of Wales

This dragon, known as the “Draig Goch” in Wales, was the inspiration for my outfit. Who would have thought that a web search inquiry for Welsh fabric companies would lead me to some of the cheeriest fabric I’ve ever sewn ? When I landed on the page for a stamped organic cotton, I knew I had found my fabric. But what to make ?

With the winter weather in Florida being much milder than the northern latitudes of wet Wales, I erred on the side of conservative warmth and practicality. A pleated skirt paired with dark leather boots seemed like the perfect storm…
Carbon Chic’s tutorial was a helpful starting point for my knife pleated skirt, but I couldn’t make the numbers work. So, I freehandedly began pleating away in 2 inch increments, starting at the right side seam (with pocket) and moving left towards the second side seam. A zipper and button closure were installed at the back.

Paired with my mother’s classic red turtleneck and riding boots, I was pleased with my “up country” look.

(Psst ! Remember when these same boots marched off to La Fille du Régiment ?)

In a way, I felt my clothes emulated a schoolgirl, arms saddled with books, on her way to the library. And that library, wondrous and enchanting, was an afternoon in Wales with Bryn Terfel.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Bryn Terfel and Friends
Brecon Cathedral
Brecon, Wales
Live broadcast date: December 12, 2020
(Date seen: December 19, 2020)

Bryn Terfel ─ bass-baritone
Natalya Romaniw ─ soprano
Trystan Llŷr Griffiths ─ tenor
Jeffery Howard ─ piano
Hannah Stone ─ harp
Calan

Sirupsnipper Cookies ─ No White Flour, No White Sugar

I haven’t consumed white flour or white sugar since 2009 when a medical condition forced me to change my lifestyle. And while there have been moments of deprivation and longing for conventional flour and sugar-laden treats, my sweet tooth has been mostly satiated since my refined baked goods breakup. Over the years, I have fiddled with adapting regular recipes of breads and sweets with questionable results. However, this cookie was a winner !

I have included a “no white flour/no white sugar” version of the original Sirupsnipper recipe from Sons of Norway The recipe is as follows:

Ingredients

9 Tbsp. cream
½ cup + 2½ Tbsp. maple syrup
½ cup + 2½ Tbsp. coconut sugar
7 Tbsp. butter
3¾ cups rye flour
1½ tsp. pepper*
1½ tsp. ginger*
½ tsp. anise*
1½ tsp. cinnamon*
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
blanched almonds for decorating

*Note: I came to these measurements based on trial and taste. They are on the spicy side this way, but the spices can certainly be adjusted down if they are too “hot” for the palate. Also, I ground half of a pod of star anise instead of using jarred spice. The freshly ground half pod came to a scant ½ tsp.

Instructions

1. Boil cream, maple syrup, and coconut sugar together. Stir in butter and let mixture cool until lukewarm.

2. Combine flour and dry ingredients and whisk together.

3. Sift in dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill overnight.

4. Roll dough out as thin as possible and cut diagonal lines to make diamond shapes (or use cookie cutters in various shapes).

5. Place cookies on greased baking sheet or parchment paper covered baking sheet. These cookies barely spread so you’re safe to crowd them rather tightly on the pan.

6. Place a blanched almond in the middle of each cookie.
7. Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes (or until crispy).

*An optional egg wash may be used if you desire a shiny appearance. This, I omitted.

These Christmas cookies were a delicious treat for our Norwegian food spread fêting Lise Davidsen’s Met concert from Oscarshall Palace in Norway. Isn’t the forest of trees a lovely sight next to spiky coconut macaroons ?

Because of the exceptional outcome of this recipe adaptation, I plan to bake these for years to come. File this one under ‘Success’ in the No White Flour/No White Sugar recipe box !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

From Dirndl to Bunad: How a German sewing pattern became Norway’s traditional dress

Similar in shape and style, the German dirndl and the Norwegian bunad could be long lost cousins ! Vests with front closures, long skirts with embellishments and embroidery, and bright national colors teem with patriotic esprit de corps. With a new, modern production of Wagner’s Die Fliegende Holländer scheduled for the 2019-2020 Live in HD season, I cast off the thought of trying to guess the heretofore unseen (and most likely abstruse) costumes for François Girard’s reimagining and veered toward the more traditional: a Norwegian bunad for the opera’s Scandinavian setting.

However, when Die Fliegende Holländer was cancelled the day before its cinematic broadcast in March, the nearly finished bunad was left thrown over the back of a chair where it sat in silence for months. That is, until the concert for Lise Davidsen popped up and suddenly the bunad became relevant again. Here’s how I made it…

The Pattern

I started by using a German dirndl pattern, which was given to me by a friend several months prior. When Gisele offered me any of the patterns in her garage sale stash, I looked over the Burda pattern thinking it was fashionable, but not something I could use for the foreseeable future. How clueless I was…

Burda 8396

Noticing how similar the bunad and dirndl were, I began plotting how I was going to alter the original pattern; namely, removing the front zipper and transforming the front into a corset of sorts. A mock-up was made.

After determining the new design of the front, the muslin markings were transferred onto the tissue paper pattern piece.

According to the mock-up, the rest of the pattern appeared to be in good shape and now it was time to cut the real fabric.

The Fabric

I knew I wanted a bright red vest with a deep blue skirt and white blouse like many of the photos I found online…

Finding the perfect fabric was simple: a sample ordered online proved to be a brilliant scarlet with a subtle tonal floral pattern. Even better, the cotton fabric was Scandinavian in its origin. I do love to match my materials with their geographical creative counterparts !

The pieces were pinned onto the twice folded fabric (for the face AND lining) and cut out.

Sewing

Because adding decoration and details were important, I decided to pipe the seams of the bodice to set off the shaping of the vest. A regular zipper foot works just as well as any fancy piping foot…

Sewing the piping

Two rows of Rigilene boning were sewn onto the front vertical edges of the lining to support the lacing area. On the face side, the seams and piping allowances were pressed opened. All the corners were snipped to prevent bulk.

Now that both the face and the lining were complete, it was time to sew them together along the neckline edge. Bias binding was used to finish the armholes and the bottom of the vest.

Sewing the bias binding

Voilà ! The vest was almost finished. Holes were punched, grommets were installed, and then the garment was set aside.

The Skirt

The master Burda pattern came with a skirt design, but this, too, had to be adapted. There was a front zipper to be joined in connection with the bodice and this I removed by placing the pattern on the fold of the fabric. Speaking of, I bought the skirt fabric, a navy canvas-type material, from Walmart ! The pattern was laid out on the canvas…

…and a waistband was cut.

Waistband marked on folded fabric

I sewed the skirt based on the instructions, which included front pleats and a gathered back. The single side pocket (why only one ?) was omitted. A regular zipper was installed. Folding the waistband in half, it was attached to the top edge of the skirt over the pleats and gathers. A buttonhole was made at the back and a bright blue button was sewn onto the other side of the back band.

Back zipper closure and button

Something that I found skewed about the pattern was the overall hem length. It was looooooooong ! Too long. Fortunately, the folded hem provided an excellent starting place for the decorative stitching I wanted to implement along the bottom edge. Did I ever think I was going to use more than 3 of the 100 stitches on my BabyLock sewing machine ? Heavens, no ! But I have ─ look how pretty the motifs look when sewn in bright scarlet !

That’s it ! The vest and skirt were finished and now it was time to put it all together. There was one thing missing and that was the classic white blouse that is worn beneath the vest.

Hmmm…

Searching through my mother’s closet, I found a suitable blouse in sleeve length… but it had an expansive scalloped collar satin stitched in crimson. No need to worry─ I just turned the collar right side in and the blouse was just perfect !

Together with a gold brooch and lapis jewelry, the outfit was a close resemblance to the traditional Norwegian bunad.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

To read about my virtual escape to Norway wearing my bunad, check out my post on the concert for Lise Davidsen !

http://costumeclosetcouture.com/2020/09/07/met-stars-live-in-concert-lise-davidsen/

Met Stars Live in Concert: Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja

“Viva Italia !” my friends and I exclaimed when we heard that the location of the upcoming concert for Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja had been moved from exotic seaside Malta to the Palazzo Reale in Caserta, Italy. On record as the world’s largest royal residence, the grand venue was ideal for the cinematic transmission of the latest Met Stars Live in Concert series.

The Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy

The combination of Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja was a bit odd, especially when considering their “polar opposites” repertoire. The normally floating trills of the German soprano felt strained during the heavy Tosca numbers (“Vissi d’arte” was downright painful), which were salvaged by the charming apropos acting in a literal libretto location.

Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja singing excerpts from Tosca in the Met Stars Live in Concert series

Calleja’s hearty voice squelched Damrau’s on more than one occasion, but most notably during the finale duet of “Ave Maria” where they each took turns with versed lines. In the past, I have always enjoyed Diana Damrau due to her ability to make me feel her characters with a voice of sweetly scented femininity. However, it was during this last selection that I wished she would just stand silent and let Calleja fill the cavernous chapel with his rich tone.

Joseph Calleja and Diana Damrau singing “Ave Maria” / Metropolitan Opera

The best part about the concert was guessing which wrap Diana would wear next ! For each musical number, she would emerge from the wings of the palace chapel with a new accessory to play off her strapless black velvet gown.

Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja in the Met Stars Live in Concert series from Caserta, Italy

The Cuisine

Let’s talk about the food ! While we all struggled with the idea of Maltese cuisine (rabbit, anyone ?), the Italian switcheroo rendered the culinary preparation a breeze. Since the palace in Caserta was part of the Campania region (think Naples), Chris volunteered to make Neapolitan meatballs…

…and I was assigned the classic Caprese salad.

Anne brought the antipasti platter…

…and Jayne provided the Prosecco !

Our feast was complete… and delicious, too. We cleaned our plates !

The Clothes

When I first saw this concert on the lineup, I knew EXACTLY what I would wear, even after the location change. Years ago, I remembering thumbing through a catalog for Soft Surroundings and “oohing” and “ahhing” at the vibrant colors and relaxed refinery of the clothes. One dress, although simple, always jumped out at me along with the styling of the photo:

Santiago Boatneck Dress / Soft Surroundings

Something about the floor length knit dress in the earthy colors with the rustic jewelry just seemed so casually elegant. Coincidentally, I had several long necklaces that would look perfect with the dress. But when I checked the Soft Surroundings website, it appeared the boatneck style of dress had been discontinued. Even though I wanted to make my own dress, it would have been helpful to have more detailed pictures of what the website could offer. Nevertheless, I searched for knit maxi dress patterns and found a promising one from Hallå Patterns.

Agnes knit dress from Hallå Patterns

With a “just right” paprika colored French Terry knit, which was found in my October 2020 edition of Julie’s Picks swatch club, I sewed the pattern with the one tweak of lengthening the hem by 1½ inches, just in case. It was a perfect adjustment, but I do believe I would have allowed more width in the shoulders.

The dress was just what I desired ─ fall color, Old World jewelry, and casual stateliness for my imagined Neapolitan holiday. Best of all, I didn’t have to pay upwards of $100 ! It was a win-win-win !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja
Cappella Palatina of the Royal Palace of Caserta
Caserta, Italy
Live broadcast date: October 24, 2020

Diana Damrau ─ soprano
Joseph Calleja ─ tenor
Roberto Moreschi ─ piano

Provençal Potato Salad

The recipe that played a starring role in the Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna concert from Èze, France is listed here. This salad is packed full of summer flavors ! With its inherent freshness and chic, Mediterranean appeal, it’s no wonder that the recipe was featured on the cover of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook in 1999.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Copyright: Ina Garten, 1999)

(Adaptions and notes made from Ina Garten’s original Provençal Potato Salad recipe are marked by asterisks* and italics)

Ingredients:

1 pound small white boiling potatoes
1 pound small red boiling potatoes
(or any combination of small red, white, or yellow potatoes)
2 tablespoons good dry white wine
2 tablespoons chicken stock
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar works fine)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill (or more)
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley (or more)
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
1/2 pound haricots verts, stems removed (or green beans)
1 6-ounce can Italian tuna, drained and flaked (two cans of a good, chunky American tuna will work just as well)
1/2 cup capers, drained
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
1/2 cup black olives, pitted
6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered, optional
6 anchovy fillets, optional*

*I chop 2-4 anchovy fillets for the vinaigrette and do not add additional fillets for garnish.

Instructions

Drop the white and red potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. (I steam my potatoes in a large pot for the same amount of time) Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in 1/2 (quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.

Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (and chopped anchovies) and slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss.

In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the haricots verts for 3 to 5 minutes, until barely tender. Drain and immerse into ice water for 5 minutes. Drain again.*

*I steam the green beans at the same time as I’m steaming the eggs, removing the greens beans after the specified time while continuing to steam the eggs.

In a large bowl, combine the haricot verts with potato salad, tuna, capers, tomatoes, onions, olives, eggs, and anchovy fillets.* Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Be careful when tossing the quartered eggs with the rest of the ingredients ─ I found that the yolks separated all too easily when combining the mixture. Another option would be to arrange the eggs on top in a serving bowl.

Just look at all those colors !

Enjoy !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha