From the sextet of wives belonging the brutishly fickle Henry VIII to the bloody tug-of-war between Catholicism and Protestantism, the Tudor period in history is a meaty bone of tumult and fascination. The drama of the time must have captured Donizetti’s mind as well: his trilogy of Tudor operas is a tour-de-force for singers and a favorite haunt for acting potential. And so, here I was, at the finale of my first opera season, with the opportunity to see a spectacle of costumes and make-up prowess.
The buzz around this performance of Roberto Devereux was Sondra Radvanovsky’s daring run at the Tudor Triple Crown ─ she performed all three of the Donizetti Tudor queens in one season to riotous acclaim. However, I found more appeal in the light Italian strings of the overture than the flapping voice of Radvanovsky. Furthermore, the duets and trios were the hallmark in this opera, especially with the creamy-toned Elīna Garanča and the drama surrounding her character (caught between her husband and her forbidden love for the Queen’s favorite suitor).
More than anticipated, the make-up was sensational, undoubtedly its very best on Sondra Radvanovsky’s aged Elizabeth. The perfectly coiffed paprika peruke was doffed at the opera’s end to reveal a withering white fray of “natural” hair that was a remarkable feat of theatrical trickery.
Moving onto the costumes, I knew this opera would feature extremely intricate pieces that were beyond my scope of sewing skills. I did, after all, just teach myself to sew almost 6 weeks earlier for when I needed an outfit for Madame Butterfly. What was I to do ? An offhanded observation of Tudor portraits easily pointed out the garment of ubiquity, the ruff. Oh, yes, I MUST have a ruff, but a different kind of ruff… “Tudor Couture on the Cheap !”
Something that was crafty and unique was in order and the first thing I wanted to tweak was the color of the ruff. Instead of a glaring white starched collar, I imagined a more earthy accessory to compliment the neutral colors of the outfit I had planned to wear. Configuring the ruff was crucial: who would want to wear an all encompassing collar, especially when sitting in one of the high backed chairs of the theater ? No, that wouldn’t do. Rather, I opted for an open ruff, one that swooped around the back neckline and left the chest exposed.
Now for the construction… Since sewing was out of the question, I devised a plan to use a large cardboard pizza round and cut away part of the front for the neck and chest opening, which worked well. But the most extraordinary feature of the ruff was the actual “ruffle” material: unbleached coffee filters ! With their curly edges and cost effective efficiency, the coffee filters were perfect when artfully folded and glued onto the pizza round. Both the top and bottom of the cardboard round were layered with the filters and attached using hot glue. All that was left was to glue two inward facing clothespins to the undersides of the ruff near the front points and I now had an accessory worthy of the Tudors.
Alas, I misjudged the back protrusion ─ throughout the day in the theater, I was forced to sit with my head bent downward and forward because of the ruff’s extended back edge. By the curtain call, I had a crick in my neck.
With my first opera season in the books, I unclipped the paper ruff and admired its beauty and ingenuity… but not its discomfort.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Roberto Devereux ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1837)
Live in HD air date: April 16, 2016
Queen Elizabeth ─ Sondra Radvonovsky
Roberto Devereux ─ Matthew Polenzani
Sara, Duchess of Nottingham ─ Elīna Garanča
Duke of Nottingham ─ Mariusz Kwiecien
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Sir David McVicar
Costume Designer ─ Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt