Birthday Blues (and Purples, too !) ─ Matching Birthday Dresses

Have you ever come across an object that so uncannily embodies the persona of someone you know that you almost have to do a double take ? This is exactly what occurred as I was thumbing through an issue of “Julie’s Picks” swatch club one summer afternoon.

There it was: a royal blue burnout velvet that had me screaming inside my head, “Faith !!!!”

Faith has an affinity for blue (and royal blue in particular) the way I have an alliteration affinity (and am an absolutely ardent advocate about appropriate and ample application !). When I spotted an additional royal purple colorway listed on the page, the wheels in my head began to cycle at rapid RPMs. Matching dresses !

Was I being irrational ? After all, I have never met Faith in person and trying to do a fitting online seemed impossible. But that didn’t matter… it was destiny and as soon as the fabrics became available, I snatched up several yards of each.

Originally, I envisioned this duo of dresses for Christmas, but with no opera outfits to conjure, my schedule was left wide open. Since Faith and I share September birthdays that are 6 days apart, it seemed like an appropriate deadline and perfect birthday present. Birthday dresses, it is !

Now came the tricky part: choosing a pattern style that would suit two completely different figures ! Because of the low cost, I turned to Lekala patterns since I knew that they offered customized PDF patterns based on individual measurements for a bargain. Velvet begs for the opportunity to be draped and ruched so the faux wrap style of #4078 was my top choice. The V-neck and triangular inset promised a slimmer appearance, which is desired by all.

Agreeing to the style and process, Faith sent her measurements and I began to work… but first, a detour. Since the almost-neon purple ITY knit I ordered for the lining of my dress was ill-matched to the deep plum of the purple velvet, I decided to use the ITY knit for a mock-up, which I wore to Jonas Kaufmann’s concert in July.

The mock-up proved two things: 1) the dress needed to be looser in the bust and upper arms, and 2) the hem could be lengthened just a smidge to cover the knee, as per Faith’s request. This was done for the real deal. Taking precautions, I cut out the patterns with extra seam allowances, but sewed at only a ¼” seam. Just a tip: cut your stretch velvets with the right sides facing each other… it’s too slippery the other way !

So was the grand plan pulled off without a hitch ? Yes ! Cutting it close, I mailed Faith her dress just days before her birthday, holding my breath to learn of its fit or misfit. It was a gamble, but I heaved a mighty sigh when I received word of its perfection. Whew !

Faith chose to style her dress casually with leggings and boots and with coordinating accessories. As for me, I had the professional modes in mind and added gold jewelry and stockings to complement a dressed up business look.

This was an accomplishment I will always remember: sewing my first fitted project for someone, virtually. The moment was all the more relished by the satisfactory result and the shared bond of two friends with matching birthday dresses.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Eugene Onegin

Prior to the latter months of 2015, a Russian opera wouldn’t have turned my head. Ha ! How uniquely situations can change… As an autodidact of the Russian language, I was so excited to see Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and even more enthused to witness another performance by Anna Netrebko, half of the reason I began learning Russian in the first place.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

This was to be a reunion of sorts ─ three of the singers whom I first saw in Il Trovatore in 2015 (Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Štefan Kocán) were scheduled for Onegin, but sadly, circumstances beyond the control of human capacity altered these best forged plans. With Dmitri Hvorostovsky bowing out due to advancing brain cancer, Peter Mattei stepped into the shoes of the snobbish title cad.

Štefan Kocán as Prince Gremin and Peter Mattei as Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

Strangely, the entire cast was Slavic except the Swedish Mattei, who felt so much like an outsider because of it ! I don’t know if it was his non-native tongue, his towering stature, or his graying goatee, but there was an obvious distinction between him and his fellow cast members. Even in spite of the casting swap, I delighted in listening to the Russian words in hopes of recognizing a few. Surprisingly, I was able to distinguish brief passages of verses, which thrilled my scholarly applications. My broad smile was impenetrable.

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and Peter Mattei as Eugene Onegin / Metropolitan Opera

For an operation that was almost purely Russian, an equally felicitous outfit was required. I knew I was going to wear my long black velvet dress, but what else ? A sleek, matching velvet stole factored into my plans of a stereotypical Russian oligarch look of winter temperaments. But the stole was dismissed in favor of the serendipity thrown my way: “I’ve got this long black velvet coat that I saw at the thrift shop ─ do you want it ?” my friend, Paula, asked me a few weeks before the date of the opera. Without a word, I nodded my head up and down in a manner that was akin to vigorously shaking a can of spray paint. Да, пожалуйста !

The long duster was a thrill beyond belief ─ each time I stepped forth, a trailing breeze would catch in the sails of the velvet. I felt like one of those guys in “The Matrix” !

Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”

With my outfit set, all that was needed was a trademark fur hat. Often called an ushanka, I needed a more basic pillbox version of the traditional Russian winter headwear. To start, I crocheted a base hat out of black yarn and then bought 6 inches worth of faux fur at Jo-Ann Fabrics. After covering the sides and top of the hat, I still had a fraction of the fur left over. The total cost ? Around $1. Now that’s what I call a deal !

Большое спасибо, Paula !

Fur cuffed gloves and a stylish clutch completed my black-on-black ensemble that was purely по-русски.

Eugene Onegin was well worth the wait for the satisfaction of applying my new language skills. Maybe the next time I have the chance to see it, I’ll recognize even more of Pushkin’s verses while simultaneously being swept away in Tchaikovsky’s melodic score. Time to return to my studies…

До свидания !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Eugene Onegin ─ Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1879)
Live in HD air date: April 22, 2017

Cast:
Tatiana ─ Anna Netrebko
Eugene Onegin ─ Peter Mattei
Olga ─ Elena Maximova
Lensky ─ Alexey Dolgov
Prince Gremin ─ Štefan Kocán

Credits:
Conductor ─ Robin Ticciati
Production ─ Deborah Warner
Set Designer ─ Tom Pye
Costume Designer ─ Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer ─ Jean Kalman
Video Designers ─ Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross
Choreographer ─ Kim Brandstrup
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Renée Fleming

Patrick Muehleise in Concert

“A Night of the Romantics !” the program read, as I took my seat on an unusually frigid November evening at a concert for Patrick Muehleise, a tenor in town. I must say, it’s not often the opera (in whatever form) comes so close to home, but when it does, I like to pounce on the opportunity much like a frisky kitten on a slowly pulled string.

Based on the leadup flyers and promotional materials I received in the mail, I was expecting the concert to heavily feature opera arias. I was rather mistaken. Although my thirst for opera was whetted only by an enchanting “En ferment les yeux” from Manon (recalling how the aria was sung with dearest tenderness by Michael Fabiano the month before), the program had its poking luminescence ─ a musically-set “Sea Fever” brought back recollections of when I had memorized John Masefield’s poem in my schooling years while Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House” displayed a rhythmic vigor and introduced me to a new-type genre.

Patrick’s diction was crisp and readable; it’s as if every word was distinguishable, even the foreign language passages. His voice, on the other hand, was more “pointed” than desired for solo pieces ─ many of my musically-inclined friends commented that he was better suited for choral work in a group setting. But I had an alternative judgement of where Mr. Mule-EYES-uh (this was how he instructed us to pronounce his surname) would best thrive: the characterizations of Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs” was played to the hilt of hilarity that I could easily picture Patrick taking his talents to Broadway. I told him so much during the meet and greet afterwards where I was rebuffed by a flashing smile and a boisterous laugh of incredibility. So much for my thought !

Thinking of how I would dress, I wished to be elegant as well as in line with the atmosphere of the event. One of my standby favorites, the black velvet sheath dress with chiffon cowl collar and pleated back train, was perfect. But with the chilly temperatures (and evening status), I needed something equally stunning to use for warmth and cover. I recalled my consignment capelet in coincidentally matching black velvet and slung it over my shoulders. My mother styled my hair in a hurry and I was off to the Arts Center for a night of the romantics !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

“A Night of the Romantics!”
Date: November 16, 2019
Lake Wales Arts Center

Patrick Muehleise ─ tenor
Dr. Jonathan Reed ─ piano

An Ode to the Don (Giovanni, that is)

Devilish and cunning, the rakish Don Giovanni swept into town.
His words beguiling and gestures disarming, his reputation carried more than a frown.
And now with his fellow, by name, Leporello, he made his latest attempt.
For poor Donna Anna, betrothed to Don Ottavio, could offer only contempt.
It was her elderly father of nobility’s blood that came to her rescue at once,
But “too little, too late” was the defense and at sword’s jab the man fell like a dunce.

Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni and Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna / Metropolitan Opera

With conquests left to behold, the Don ran after the rustling skirt.
If only he knew that the scorned Elvira would turn his life into trodden dirt;
A crusade and mission urged her on and from town to town she flew,
Warning the women (and most likely victims) of what they unknowingly knew.
From peasant to princess, no one was safe from Giovanni’s philandering curse.
Now to the banquet of happiest couple, shouldn’t I try to keep this terse ?

Simon Keenlyside and Malin Byström in Don Giovanni / Metropolitan Opera

Zerlina succumbed; Masetto enraged, he gathered together a mob,
To pluck from the earth the sly and brazen cad of unholy, calamitous job.
Backed in a corner, his person in peril, the man of misbehavior in doubt;
He swapped into clothes of his hapless friend (turned foe) and escaped without a shout.
His pursuits still vulgar, his actions unchanged, could the villain ever be stopped ?
A walk in the graveyard, perhaps the evening repast, could render the charges be dropped.

Serena Malfi as Zerlina and Matthew Rose as Masetto in Don Giovanni / Metropolitan Opera

Remember the man, called “Commendatore”, who departed with last breath spent ?
His ghost revived in chiseled stone with the dire last call of “Repent !”
But the obstinate rake refused to relinquish his grips on feminine flesh,
With no other choice, the floors agape, the hellish flames swallowed his body afresh.
The vermin extinguished, the story could end, but here’s the final sitch ─
When Mozart’s to blame, one should expect a lesson for both the poor and rich.

Kwangchul Youn as the Commendatore, Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni, and Adam Plachetka as Leporello / Metropolitan Opera

What should I wear, I asked myself, to an opera of class shown about ?
For distinctions are clear between master and slave, the truest of nobles and the notable lout.
Mozart’s maidens are timeless and fair regardless of rank or style of their hair;
From Anna, Elvira (both Donnas, you see), to lowly Zerlina, her dress with a tear.
Baffled and miffed, I wrestled with such: for whom to portray, which one of the doves ?
A closet of merit should cater to all, but given the choice, pass me the gloves !

A lady who’s worth her virtue at all must harbor her secrets from the presence of all,
But since I’ve managed to rhyme thus far, why not divulge both big and small ?
The golden tank of consignment birth, resurfaced from outings of drawer-bound dearth;
Yes, it’s true how much it is used, from Indian sari to Desdemona’s innocent mirth.
Demure was the purse, deluxe the skirt (whose waist was pinned after a bout of torque),
And best of all, this I confess, a velvet shawl from the Port Authority in New York.

What are those dots, which catch the eye, and bring to sight a glimmering shine ?
To keep at bay the disheveling wind, a thought ─ an act ─ must supplant the crowning line.
When a lady needs to look her best, she never leaves home with her hair in a mess;
Aristocracy gave need for address, for women of rank needn’t accept anything less.
And now with my hooks and needles aflight, a snood I fashioned with all of my might─
Yarn of alpaca to match the hue of my hair and beads of pearl knotted on tight.

Prim and proper, my hair was corralled like a breath-beaten filly who’s had it with crowds.
Accented with jewelry and earrings of gold (and let’s not forget the gloves of renown),
The outfit was ready to make its debut for all of them who bought tickets to view,
The opera, a gem for Mozart’s raptly devote, which escapes the feelings of only a few;
It’s part of that limited group to which I submit: with Mozart, I’m often not “over the moon”,
But the Don was persuasive, unscrupulous, too; no lady immune: all I could do was swoon !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Don Giovanni ─ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1787)
Live in HD air date: October 22, 2016

Cast:
Donna Anna ─ Hibla Gerzmava
Donna Elvira ─ Malin Byström
Zerlina ─ Serena Malfi
Don Ottavio ─ Paul Appleby
Don Giovanni ─ Simon Keenlyside
Leoporello ─ Adam Plachetka
Masetto ─ Matthew Rose
The Commendatore ─ Kwangchul Youn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Fabio Luisi
Production ─ Michael Grandage
Set and Costume Designer ─ Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Ben Wright
Live in HD Director ─ Matthew Diamond
Host ─ Joyce DiDonato