It’s no secret that I love a good secret, especially when that secret surrounds the identity of an individual. Much like my all-time favorite opera, Turandot, the German fairytale of Lohengrin is shrouded in mystery as to the name and origins of its central character. But my penchant for sworn confidences is only part of why Lohengrin reigns as co-champion for my favorite Wagnerian opera.
Including the ethereal prelude, which felt like a cathartic sound bath under the spell of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s rapturous orchestra, and the bated breath aria “In fernem Land” in Act III, I am moved to hallowed stillness by the nobility of the piece. The purity, blind faith, and exalted submission of the hero to a higher power elicits sighs of romantic grandeur from my heart. Perpetually, the opera inspires me to a greater character of soul. And while I have never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve, I think it can be veritably said that there is no female alive who does not inwardly swoon over a knight in shining armor, coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress. Myself, included.
Before Lohengrin was ever scheduled to appear at the Met, I always knew what I would create for the occasion. Years passed before I could fulfill my vision for the opera, but my daydreams never waned. Finally, the moment arrived. Swan Knight Bride was the culmination of central plot points in the opera: the swan that tows the skiff carrying the knight to defend the innocent Elsa, who then becomes his beloved bride.
My idea was to assemble all these elements and blend them into a “Modern Medieval” look with simplistic styling. And so, the process began.
Starting with a proper foundation was important, especially since I had distinct parameters for how I wanted the gown to look. When I discovered the Sewist design website, I was in “dress dream” heaven. Below is the base gown I “designed” using the mix-and-match software offered for free by the company:
I loved the jewel sweetheart neckline as a sleek and stately alternative to a traditional Queen Anne neckline. Even with my customized pattern, I needed to do some additional fitting to account for my knit fabric and provide added stability around the pointed contours of the neckline. Taking a class from Katrina Walker on how to sew pretty necklines for knits paid off grandly as my heavy, slippery tricot fabric looked flawless after the techniques were applied. Thank you, Katrina !
For the “knight” representation, my plan was to liberally bedazzle the shoulders of the gown with metallic rhinestones in a gradient effect as if some of the Grail’s mystic power had descended upon my shoulders. The plain gown underwent a resplendent transformation as each rhinestone was applied entirely by hand.
What’s a bride without her veil ? Here is where I decided to implement “mein lieber Schwan.” Mirroring the gradation on my shoulders, my aim was to have the veil look as if feathers were gently floating in soft swishes. Originally, I was just going to gather several yards of an embroidered tulle, but after realizing the mesh was too soft and stretchy for a veil, I opted to extract the feathers from the mesh using scissors and a soldering iron and then attached them onto a more suitable tulle.
With all components complete, I added an oak leaf crown to symbolize the meeting place at the beginning of the opera as well as to lend a Medieval touch to the outfit. Swan Knight Bride, at last !
The crisply turned out neckline and the sparkle from the silver rhinestones made me feel so glamourous and noble.
With hundreds of jewels applied by hand, the gown’s decoration was a labor of love… but so worth it !
A Medieval gown cannot be without its bridal point sleeves ! Altering the sleeve pattern to include them gave me fits, but they were gorgeous in the end.
To Wagner’s Lohengrin, only one thing can be said… “I do !”
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Lohengrin ─ Richard Wagner (1850)
Live in HD air date: March 18, 2023
Lohengrin ─ Piotr Beczała
Elsa ─ Tamara Wilson
Ortrud ─ Christine Goerke
Telramund ─ Evgeny Nikitin
Herald ─ Brian Mulligan
King Heinrich ─ Günther Groissböck
Conductor ─ Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production ─ François Girard
Set and Costume Designer ─ Tim Yip
Lighting Designer ─ David Finn
Projection Designer ─ Peter Flaherty
Choreographer ─ Serge Bennathan
Dramaturg ─ Serge Lamothe
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Christopher Maltman