Sometimes, it is the decisions made on a whim that turn out to be the best. This is what occurred as I opened a regular, mundane e-mail from the Met promoting a new documentary on Luciano Pavarotti. I didn’t know much about Pavarotti, personally, although his voice had always pleased my ears. With the doldrums of the slow summer months poised ahead of me, I figured, “Why not ?” and alerted my theater friends of the occasion.
The documentary was informative in that it taught me more about Pavarotti’s life and highlighted his ebullient, larger-than-life personality. However, there was one thing missing in the context of the film and that was the preeminent tenor’s notorious reputation for being “difficult”. Although there were glimpses into tumultuous family spats, most bouts of “divo” behavior were brushed aside like specks of dust on a woolen suit. Naturally, the film was devoid of any serious damages to Pavarotti’s persona, notwithstanding his extramarital affair with Nicoletta Mantovani.
Without question, the summit for all was the extended clip of one of Pavarotti’s celebrated performances of “Nessun dorma”. Behind and around me, I heard uncontrollable sniffles and the muffled sounds of Kleenexes to congested noses.
Pavarotti’s homeland and heritage of Modena, Italy, inspired the theme for my outfit worn to the documentary: Dripping in Diamonds. Situated between the fashion hubs of Milan and Florence, the northern Italian location evoked thoughts of trendy couture gowns and the glamourous styles. Brash and gaudy like a movie star, but also regal and polished, I grabbed one of my standby dresses from my closet: a sapphire blue one shoulder chiffon gown with rhinestone detailing on the shoulder. Years ago, I bought this gown on clearance at a consignment shop and now it was getting its turn in the spotlight. The jewels and gloves (and a purse “dripping in diamonds” ─ also a consignment find) were the icing on the cake.
A high bun with ringlets spiraling down was just right for my Italian diva look…
Oh, and those shoes ? They’re used, too ! I bought them at a resale closet for $16. They’re Ivanka Trump stilettos whose heights reach the heavens !
Leaving the theater that night, I had to trot back inside because of a missing pair of glasses I thought I had left behind. When I inquired at the podium in the lobby, one of the young attendants remarked that I all needed was a British accent. “Why ?” I asked. “Because you look like royalty” replied the attendant.
Hope. Blood. Turandot ! If my first brush with opera in 2015 hadn’t of been so life-altering, Puccini’s grandest spectacle (and final opera) would be the undisputed favorite of my heart. I remember when I first saw the opera in theaters in early 2016: it was the encore showing the following Wednesday evening since I was out of town for the live Saturday matinee broadcast. So monumental was the feeling I had while witnessing the story unfold on stage that when the Met announced that Turandot would be returning to theaters in 2019, I jumped on the affirmative decision faster than a Ferrari at top speed.
Turandot has everything. There’s drama, romance, passion, mystery, sacrifice, joy, and best of all, some of the most heart-pounding, resplendent music your ears will ever hear. The emotional power behind the fearless and triumphant aria, “Nessun dorma”, sends me to the brink of tears while elevating me from my terrestrial state. There are many renditions on the web, but I am especially moved by the English/Italian translation of the Pavarotti performance below. Divine !
As much as I adore the greatest tenor aria ever written (and that is not an exaggeration), my favorite moment in the opera comes during the high-stakes Riddle Scene showdown. Regardless of how many times I’ve seen the opera and know its plot inside and out, I can’t help but think I’ve missed something and fear a fatal slip-up by Calàf. Thankfully, my trepidation is always unfounded.
While this performance of Turandot had its plusses (Eleonora Buratto’s Liù) and minuses (an overly sensitive Calàf), the reigning winner is still Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent production. Everything from the sets and costumes to the choreography of the chorus is perfectly enacted for an otherworldly experience. The feeling is magical. Your breath is taken away.
Heavily influenced by traditional Beijing Opera, the characters in Zeffirelli’s extant 1987 staging of Turandot are loaded with symbolic make-up, ornate robes, symmetrical cloud collars, and other brightly colored embellishments. As I contemplated the design of my costume for the 2019 Turandot, I had one prerequisite: whatever I wished to make HAD to coordinate with the headpiece I created for my 2016 outing since I was pressed for time (ahem, Manon) and didn’t want to fiddle with the engineering logistics of building a new headpiece from scratch.
With guidelines established, I fashioned my outfit entirely around the color scheme of the headpiece: predominantly gold with LOTS of colorful jewels ! My friend, Judy, snapped this picture during the intermission at the theater:
The brocade robe was self-drafted using only the measurements of the shoulder width and hem diameter. The sleeves were long rectangles folded in half out of the pillowy metallic material and sewn together at the bottom edge.
Creating the cloud collar was not as straightforward. Studying the specimen from the opera, I fiddled with drawing a quartered pattern using a compass as well as freehand curves.
With just a few tweaks, the finalized pattern, which I copied onto newspaper, turned out great ! The full 4 quadrant newspaper replica was then taped to a sheet of thin foam, leftover from my Valkyrie days, and cut from its pliable surface as well as two layers of mustard colored stretch taffeta.
Through trial and error, the separate pattern for the pop-up mandarin collar was finally completed to my satisfaction and applied the foam and taffeta in the same manner.
All that was left was the decoration ! The hot glue gun and I have an on again/off again relationship, but for Turandot, we were most definitely on !
My Chinese robe on the cheap made mefeel like a citizen of Peking attending the riddle ceremony ! Careful, Calàf !
One mention of my shoes… those ballet flats ? Well, they’re not really gold. They’re white. And I bought them specifically to wear with my Empire gown to Tosca in 2018… certainly not Chinese ! But dousing dollars on new shoes for a one-time occasion is not really my style. The level of the flat was right ─ the hem of my robe wouldn’t allow for any height of heel ─ and so I changed their appearance temporarily with gold colored duct tape.
Without question, Zeffirelli’s majestic Turandot is my favorite opera in which to introduce a complete newcomer. Maybe the next time Turandot returns to the Live in HD schedule, you’ll be my first-timer and the spell of Puccini’s score will bewitch you with its undeniable magic.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Turandot ─ Giacomo Puccini (1926) Live in HD air date: October 12, 2019
Cast: Turandot ─ Christine Goerke Calàf ─ Yusif Eyvazov Liù ─ Eleonora Buratto Timur ─ James Morris
Credits: Conductor ─ Yannick Nézet-Séguin Production ─ Franco Zeffirelli Set Designer ─ Franco Zeffirelli Costume Designers ─ Anna Anni, Dada Saligeri Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler Choreographer ─ Chiang Ching Live in HD ─ Gary Halvorson Host ─ Angel Blue