Die Zauberflöte ─ The Queen of the Night

If you have a penchant for fairy tales like I do, you’ll find genuine delight in Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte. Centered around a quest for truth and knowledge (and a damsel in distress), the opera is as noble as its hero, Tamino. Between stipulated testing and bravery of self-determination, I willingly succumbed to the dashing chivalry of the prince on a mission to rescue the princess, Pamina.

Charles Castronovo as Tamino and Golda Schultz as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

If the pursuit of true love doesn’t tickle your fancy, the spectacular production by Julie Taymor (of “The Lion King” on Broadway fame) will surely elicit at least one or two gasps of wonder and amazement. The uniqueness of the costumes and puppetry fits seamlessly with the whimsical roots of the opera. There’s even creative comedy for those still unpersuaded.

Marcus Werba as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

Still not convinced ? Perhaps a fearsome villain is more appealing to you and luckily Die Zauberflöte showcases one of the most despised in the bewitching Queen of the Night. While the name sounds like a beacon among the stars and moon, the wicked queen is far from harmonious and caused me a slight shiver, partially due to the most unattractive styling of the character’s costume and make-up. If there was any doubt as to whether the Queen could make a face turn later in the opera, her appearance alone body slammed those speculations onto the floor.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

With the Queen of the Night singing the most famous aria in the opera (and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too), it was without question that I would disguise myself as this otherworldly being for my outing to the opera. While the Julie Taymor costumes are original and ostentatious, I didn’t necessarily feel they best embodied the title of “Queen of the Night” so I imagined my own vision of the character.

Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte / Metropolitan Opera

I had a long black velvet dress in my closet ─ that was a running start ─ and now I needed to accessorize the pitch black gown to fully realize its nocturnally regal potential. A queen needs a crown, right ? I thought so, too, and cut a pattern out of a corrugated cardboard box, spray painted it silver, and glued on separately cut star and moon shapes (spray painted and glittered) to the tiara. Silky black ribbons were used as the fastener. The Queen had her crown !

“But what else ?” I pondered. The idea of wearing various accessories whisked through my mind, but when I spotted a shimmery black organza printed with silver stars online, I knew I had found my answer. What could be more stunning than a floating veil of the night sky ? Using 2 yards of fabric, I gathered one widthwise edge and sewed it onto a hair comb. To the opposite widthwise edge, I drew arced lines creating a circular perimeter around what became the bottom of the veil. All raw edges and selvedges were finished and voilà ─ a veil ! Just look at how it sparkles in the evening breeze…

With all the articles combined together (including my long black gloves and jewelry), the outfit’s celestial beauty belied the cruelty of the Queen.

Psst ! This outfit also became my Halloween costume for the year. My bedazzled spider bracelet simply begged to be taken trick-or-treating…

As charming as the starry night, Die Zauberflöte goes down as my favorite Mozart opera. The music dazzles and the story is uplifting. But I’m a sucker for fairy tales, after all…

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Die Zauberflöte ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)
Live in HD air date: October 14, 2017

Cast:
Pamina ─ Golda Schultz
Tamino ─ Charles Castronovo
Papageno ─ Marcus Werba
Queen of the Night ─ Kathryn Lewek
Sarastro ─ René Pape
Speaker ─ Christian Van Horn

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
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra

An Ode to the Don (Giovanni, that is)

Devilish and cunning, the rakish Don Giovanni swept into town.
His words beguiling and gestures disarming, his reputation carried more than a frown.
And now with his fellow, by name, Leporello, he made his latest attempt.
For poor Donna Anna, betrothed to Don Ottavio, could offer only contempt.
It was her elderly father of nobility’s blood that came to her rescue at once,
But “too little, too late” was the defense and at sword’s jab the man fell like a dunce.

Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni and Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna / Metropolitan Opera

With conquests left to behold, the Don ran after the rustling skirt.
If only he knew that the scorned Elvira would turn his life into trodden dirt;
A crusade and mission urged her on and from town to town she flew,
Warning the women (and most likely victims) of what they unknowingly knew.
From peasant to princess, no one was safe from Giovanni’s philandering curse.
Now to the banquet of happiest couple, shouldn’t I try to keep this terse ?

Simon Keenlyside and Malin Byström in Don Giovanni / Metropolitan Opera

Zerlina succumbed; Masetto enraged, he gathered together a mob,
To pluck from the earth the sly and brazen cad of unholy, calamitous job.
Backed in a corner, his person in peril, the man of misbehavior in doubt;
He swapped into clothes of his hapless friend (turned foe) and escaped without a shout.
His pursuits still vulgar, his actions unchanged, could the villain ever be stopped ?
A walk in the graveyard, perhaps the evening repast, could render the charges be dropped.

Serena Malfi as Zerlina and Matthew Rose as Masetto in Don Giovanni / Metropolitan Opera

Remember the man, called “Commendatore”, who departed with last breath spent ?
His ghost revived in chiseled stone with the dire last call of “Repent !”
But the obstinate rake refused to relinquish his grips on feminine flesh,
With no other choice, the floors agape, the hellish flames swallowed his body afresh.
The vermin extinguished, the story could end, but here’s the final sitch ─
When Mozart’s to blame, one should expect a lesson for both the poor and rich.

Kwangchul Youn as the Commendatore, Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni, and Adam Plachetka as Leporello / Metropolitan Opera

What should I wear, I asked myself, to an opera of class shown about ?
For distinctions are clear between master and slave, the truest of nobles and the notable lout.
Mozart’s maidens are timeless and fair regardless of rank or style of their hair;
From Anna, Elvira (both Donnas, you see), to lowly Zerlina, her dress with a tear.
Baffled and miffed, I wrestled with such: for whom to portray, which one of the doves ?
A closet of merit should cater to all, but given the choice, pass me the gloves !

A lady who’s worth her virtue at all must harbor her secrets from the presence of all,
But since I’ve managed to rhyme thus far, why not divulge both big and small ?
The golden tank of consignment birth, resurfaced from outings of drawer-bound dearth;
Yes, it’s true how much it is used, from Indian sari to Desdemona’s innocent mirth.
Demure was the purse, deluxe the skirt (whose waist was pinned after a bout of torque),
And best of all, this I confess, a velvet shawl from the Port Authority in New York.

What are those dots, which catch the eye, and bring to sight a glimmering shine ?
To keep at bay the disheveling wind, a thought ─ an act ─ must supplant the crowning line.
When a lady needs to look her best, she never leaves home with her hair in a mess;
Aristocracy gave need for address, for women of rank needn’t accept anything less.
And now with my hooks and needles aflight, a snood I fashioned with all of my might─
Yarn of alpaca to match the hue of my hair and beads of pearl knotted on tight.

Prim and proper, my hair was corralled like a breath-beaten filly who’s had it with crowds.
Accented with jewelry and earrings of gold (and let’s not forget the gloves of renown),
The outfit was ready to make its debut for all of them who bought tickets to view,
The opera, a gem for Mozart’s raptly devote, which escapes the feelings of only a few;
It’s part of that limited group to which I submit: with Mozart, I’m often not “over the moon”,
But the Don was persuasive, unscrupulous, too; no lady immune: all I could do was swoon !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Don Giovanni ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1787)
Live in HD air date: October 22, 2016

Cast:
Donna Anna ─ Hibla Gerzmava
Donna Elvira ─ Malin Byström
Zerlina ─ Serena Malfi
Don Ottavio ─ Paul Appleby
Don Giovanni ─ Simon Keenlyside
Leoporello ─ Adam Plachetka
Masetto ─ Matthew Rose
The Commendatore ─ Kwangchul Youn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Fabio Luisi
Production ─ Michael Grandage
Set and Costume Designer ─ Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Ben Wright
Live in HD Director ─ Matthew Diamond
Host ─ Joyce DiDonato

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