Art Deco Rigoletto

Even if you’ve never seen the opera Rigoletto, you are most likely familiar with the Verdi work by its famous, hummable aria, “La donna è mobile,” heard everywhere from TV commercials to Italian restaurants. While I had the chance of watching a Rat Pack, neon-bedecked, “Vegas” Rigoletto during the Met’s free streaming at the time of their shutdown, I still felt the need to see the opera “in person” at the theater, this time set in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s. Talk about a departure from 16th century Mantua !

Michael Mayer’s “Vegas” Rigoletto
Bartlett Sher’s “Weimar” Rigoletto

What struck me the most about the new Bartlett Sher Rigoletto were the parallels to Sher’s Met production of Otello: blocky sets that felt closed off to the audience and gave the appearance of hazardous movement among the singers (watch out for the columns !). Another exasperating comparison was the inability to distinguish the lead characters from the rest of the crowd. Both the Duke in Rigoletto and Otello wore the clothes of their compatriots, with little, insufficient distinction. The costumes for the men looked to be the same in both productions ─ perhaps the budget was snug ? Overall, I felt the Weimar production was too garish and dark and was left questioning… “What’s wrong with 16th century Mantua ?!”

I always knew what I would wear before I ever had a 20’s themed opera to attend. A few years back, a friend gave me a vintage black cashmere sweater with a cream fur collar and rhinestone buckle at the waist. The tag indicated its pedigree: “100% Cashmere, Made in Scotland.” It was an instant love affair. Musing over the garment brought to mind the Silent Film era and its actresses I had seen in movies. My vision of a pale pink charmeuse gown and a black wool cloche was the surest way to bring the sweater’s former glory back into the limelight. A flapper would agree…

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
Anita Page

Since I knew that I was going to wear a cashmere sweater, the last thing I wanted was a long sleeve dress. That narrowed down the field of patterns. Ultimately, Folkwear’s Tango Dress fit the bill of a sleeveless, Art Deco design for my Silent Film Star look. Mary Pickford, here I come !

Folkwear’s Tango Dress

Silk charmeuse and a gorgeous wool suiting tangoed their way to 1920’s perfection ! This was my first time making a real hat, not one out of cardboard or headbands. A silk taffeta band decorated the supple cloche. With expensive fabrics and elegant finishes, these garments and accessories definitely classified themselves as ‘Couture’ pieces.

The hardest part was working on my 1920’s “slouch.” (Ouch !)

Bundled in the warmth of the sweater, I was set for the cold January day. Only my feet were chilled. To fashion a Mary Jane style shoe, I safety pinned sewn strips of black linen to the inside of my regular black pumps. Effective, cheap, and temporary ─ no need to buy new shoes !

Nearly everyone I meet fawns over the fan purse I crocheted specifically for this opera. And the best part ? The cotton lining material is printed with opera glasses ! How neat is that ?!

An Art Deco Rigoletto allowed me to venture into a decade that has never suited my fashion tastes. But as with most bouts of historical costuming, I gained an appreciation and greater attraction to the bias-cut drop waist dresses of the time. I can’t say that the same treatment applied to Rigoletto was as appealing.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rigoletto ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1851)
Live in HD air date: January 29, 2022

Cast:
Rigoletto ─ Quinn Kelsey
Gilda ─ Rosa Feola
Duke of Mantua ─ Piotr Beczała
Maddalena ─ Varduhi Abrahamyan
Sparafucile ─ Andrea Mastroni

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Rustioni
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard

Adriana Lecouvreur

It has been quipped that in order to perform Adriana Lecouvreur successfully, real-life divas must be cast. Art must imitate life and despite thrilling drama and chest-heaving music, the current stock of bona fide divas is rather sparse. Therefore, Adriana Lecouvreur remains mostly on the shelf of the operatic repertoire. However, the Met assembled a perfect bill of spectacularly strong singers for the star-studded Live in HD broadcast. The heat was on !

Piotr Beczała as Maurizio and Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur / Metropolitan Opera

Sir David McVicar’s elegant production embodied the powder and pomp of 18th century French theater. With a bust of Molière gracing the stage like a god watching and listening in silence to his progeny perform, one could almost immediately grasp the nucleus of the opera: no one is faithful to anyone in love.

A scene from Adriana Lecouvreur / Metropolitan Opera

A love triangle with deadly stakes, my brain was twisted in two trying to unravel the deception of it all. But probably the most anticipated of all the action was the impending battle between Anita Rachvelishvili and Anna Netrebko. This was to be Round 2 of the Anna vs. Anita vocal boxing match ─ the first occurring in Aida just a few months prior.
“They bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws;” to quote from the famed poem by James Leigh Hunt… I loved every moment of it !

Anita Rachvelishvili as the Princess of Bouillon, Ambrogio Maestri as Michonnet, and Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur / Metropolitan Opera

While the plot twists and intrigue of the opera were at times difficult to untangle, my 18th century gown was anything but a chore, which surprised even me !
Using the Simplicity 4092 pattern that included pocket hoops for support of a proper silhouette (a terrific perk to Andrea Schewe’s delightful design), I made the featured gold version on the envelope (B), and began working on my Rococo-inspired gown as the very first project on my brand new Baby Lock sewing machine and serger.

Simplicity 4092 / Designed by Andrea Schewe

But the real secret to such a regal gown without breaking the bank on luxurious silks and brocades is that I used extra wide width polyester curtain fabric, which significantly cut down on the costs of materials. (Can someone say, “Scarlett O’Hara” ?) According to the pattern instructions, the gown called for close to 5 yards of fabric. However, with the 3+ meter width of the green and gold floral damask upholstery material I used, I only needed to purchase 2 yards (2 yards @ 120 inches wide ≈ 6 yards) in addition to 1 yard of a contrasting cream material for the stomacher and underskirt. Instead of spending over $100 on standard width material (54-60″), I rounded my totals to just under $33, minus the shipping costs ─ what a steal !

My alterations were few: I lowered the neckline slightly in order to achieve the peeking bosom look of the era as well as slimming down the sleeves to fit more snugly. Bows were a must and frilly trims, too. But the bow pattern that was included in the packet was much too “cartoonish” in its original format for my taste, so I reworked those to better suit the width of the front stomacher. They were so cute !

And check out the pocket hoops ! Although not as wide as traditional panniers, they provided just the right “oompf” to the pleated skirts of the gown.

Perfectly fashioned in the 18th century style, my mother had the task of arranging my hair. Didn’t she do a great job ? It reminded me of Belle from the ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast”.

This was a fabulous gown worn to an equally glamorous opera with captivating historical backstories ! Marie Antoinette would’ve been proud.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Adriana Lecouvreur ─ Francisco Cilea (1902)
Live in HD air date: January 12, 2019

Cast:
Adriana Lecouvreur ─ Anna Netrebko
Maurizio ─ Piotr Beczała
Princess of Bouillon ─ Anita Rachvelishvili
Michonnet ─ Ambrogio Maestri
The Abbé ─ Carlo Bosi
Prince of Bouillon ─ Maurizio Muraro

Credits:
Conductor ─ Gianandrea Noseda
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Choreographer ─ Andrew George
Associate Director ─ Justin Way
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani