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

The Princess and the ‘Piece ─ Turandot

My first Puccini opera… what a thrill ! Posthumously premiering in 1926, Turandot feels more like a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale than an Italian opera ─ a haughty princess, arduous riddles, and a mysterious suitor sheltering a life-or-death secret all lead to a storybook outcome. Having heard the praises of Puccini (and the exulting melody of “Nessun dorma”), I was more than ready to attend the encore of Turandot in early 2016. I even unfurled my reproduction poster for the occasion !

Thanks, 303 !

Only Franco Zeffirelli could create the spectacular setting of Turandot. Still a Met favorite from when it debuted in 1987, the sets and choreography shine as brightly as the music itself. When the stage darkens during the scene change in Act II, the resulting lapse rewards the spectator with a breathtaking display of an ancient Chinese palace.

A scene from Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

Even more exhilarating was the famed Riddle Scene. Although I had read the synopsis and knew the correct answers to the enigmatic questions posed by the tyrannical princess, I still suffered from a classic case of head-to-toe goosebumps as Calàf won the hand of the hitherto unattainable Turandot. The victor’s salivating looks of desire and the fingering of the princess’s silky mantle were too seductive for words. My heart was aflutter !

Nina Stemme and Marco Berti in Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

Here I must opine… As the audience anticipates the much beloved “Nessun dorma” in Act III, I couldn’t help but wish for a supplemental scene prior to the big aria of a frazzled Turandot, pacing in her bedchamber with her servants while racking her brain as to what the stranger’s name could be… I think it would have added another dimension to the desperate drama.

Nevertheless, I adored the opera and everything about it: the treacherous secret (which cost Liù her life), the surrender to love, the happy ending ─ what’s not to like about Turandot ?

Alexander Tsymbalyuk as Timur, Anita Hartig as Liù, Dwayne Croft as Ping, and Nina Stemme as Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

“Chinese” is not a style typically engendered by my closets. However, there was something I could manufacture in order to convey the right amount of dynastic imperialism… While Zeffirelli’s sets are extraordinary, the costumes in Turandot are just as jaw-dropping, especially the ostentatious headpieces worn by the titular character. My goal was to create my own unique headpiece that was as visually stunning as it was logistically sound. Browsing ideas for Turandot headpieces, Birgit Nilsson’s ornate costume from 1961 was my favorite and became the inspiration for my own creation.

Birgit Nilsson as Turandot in 1961 / Metropolitan Opera

Before creation could begin, some engineering chicanery needed to occur since there were many obstacles in the way of the perfect head accessory. Just imagine ─ wearing the headpiece in the car on the way to the opera, leaning back on the headrest of the seat in the theater, potentially blocking someone’s view of the screen, etc. Using a basic headband as the foundation for the headpiece, I took measurements of height and width from the top and sides of my head in order to avoid any damages to the headpiece (and theater patrons) while realistically evaluating how tall and wide I could reasonably fashion the accessory.
There was also the ‘weight’ component to contemplate: when the entire superstructure is built off a cheap headband, the overall weight of the headpiece needed to be kept to a minimum. Keeping this in mind, I used bamboo skewers for the tall, emanating stakes and was careful to select materials that doubled as both fashionable and functional.

Decorated in sequins, rhinestones, and beads, a healthy spray painting of gold helped turn an ordinary cereal box and plain wooden skewers into a dazzling work of art.

The Turandot headpiece up close

Although my closets lacked chinoise appeal, I still tried my best to create a Chinese-themed outfit: a monochromatic red turtleneck and pants proved a reliable choice for the chilly February evening while the vibrant scarf I bought at the Port Authority in New York was just the right pop of color to match the headpiece’s prismatic brilliance.

The pre-work engineering paid off: I was able to ride to the theater with the finial just barely clearing the headliner of the car. And even though I accidentally bumped into the dark corridor on the way to my seat, no one was injured in the process, including the headpiece.

From Birgit Nilsson to Franco Zeffirelli, Puccini’s final opera is a fountain for artistic pleasure. Turandot may have been my first Puccini opera, but it certainly won’t be my last !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Turandot ─ Giacomo Puccini (1926)
Live in HD air date: January 30, 2016
(Encore seen: February 3, 2016)

Cast:
Turandot ─ Nina Stemme
Calàf ─ Marco Berti
Liù ─ Anita Hartig
Timur ─ Alexander Tsymbalyuk

Credits:
Conductor ─Paolo Carignani
Production ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designers ─ Anna Anni, Dada Saligeri
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Choreographer ─ Chiang Ching
Live in HD Director ─ Barbara Willis Sweete
Host ─ Renée Fleming

Turandot (2019)

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 !


Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma” (video: MeastroPava4Ever)

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.

Christine Goerke and Yusif Eyvazov in Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

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.

Yusif Eyvazov and Christine Goerke in Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

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.

The headpiece worn to Turandot in 2016

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 Turandot “death stare”… Thank you, Judy !

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.

Drafting the cloud collar

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.

Pattern cut from newspaper

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.

Finalized Mandarin collar pattern

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 !

Thank you for the fan, Faith !

My Chinese robe on the cheap made me feel 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,

Mary Martha

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

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