The Diva Frock: I’m not vain, it’s Art Nouveau’s fault.

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Sarah Bernhardt. Clairin. 1844.
Sarah Bernhardt. Clairin. 1844.

Today I’ll make a video recording of 3 arias with a wonderful pianist. I must personify the coquettish Annchen, sigh in round creamy strains the longing of Giuletta and decide to kill myself as Pamina with deceivingly tricky notes in my upper register that must float like angel pie. I’ll spend the day getting ready. The whole day. Like I’m getting married.

I’ll drink copious amounts of tea. Steam inhale. Stretch and do some Pilates poses. Hydrate. Steam. Breathe easily. I’ll paint my nails but with the window wide open, even though it is raining so as to avoid the fumes and yes, I’m already wearing a scarf.

I’ll buy some fresh pineapple juice. If I feel congested I’ll gargle. I’ll spit, I’ll snort.

Much of the morning I’ll lip trill around the house. I won’t talk. And I’ll definitely not freak out.

If the phone rings. Sorry. I’m sans voce.

But the cherry on the top is the frocking up. You probably think that sopranos are big show offs and somewhat vain. After all the expectation is that we must look impeccable in recital and like we have just stepped out of an Alphonse Mucha lithograph- whimsical and ethereal beauty ought to be off the Richter. Blame it on Art Nouveau.

Monaco-Monte-Carlo. Alphonse Mucha. 1897. Lithograph.
Monaco-Monte-Carlo. Alphonse Mucha. 1897. Lithograph.

Unless if we are Wagnerian and then we can afford to wear a tent. Stepping on stage all disheveled is really only appropriate if you are Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District or about to commit patricide, matricide mariticide. Or, you are just stark raving mad. Or you are a savage amazonian (think Rameau’s Les Indes galantes) or a harlot.

But regardless of what you are in recital, you must look sensational. Or so tradition tells us. I don’t know the origin of the diva frock, though a few names spring to mind for consolidating and perpetuating the tradition of glamour.

Sarah Bernhardt. The French actress consolidated a long tradition of the stage beauty. Referred to as the Divine Sarah, kings showered her with jewels, and crowds at rail stations threw their coats down for her. She was the archetype of Art Nouveau beauty and whimsy, but also quite the firecracker. Hardly shy, she gregariously held soiree with cheetahs and tiger cubs present, was air born by hot air balloon and even went down the Niagara falls for a lark. Her taste for fashion extended into the decadent, especially where millinery was concerned (she was even known to prop a stuffed bat nonchalantly on a hat).

Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt set the proverbial ball rolling- and a smattering of the opera divas who followed the great stage diva, in tradition and obligation to looking sensational can be found below.

Yes, most singers, especially sopranos do love to frock up… or do they? I’m hardly the prima donna at La Scala however even at my current level, I’m required to step into this long tradition. Every time, this is the last thing I even want to think of. I’d rather spend more time on arpeggios or reviewing my cadenzas. Sure I have gowns, although each time I get a new one I struggle to fill it and need a seamstress to give me décolletage. To be honest, I’d not mind singing in boots or even just a pretty little tea dress. But my art is a classical art.  This is our business. The tradition is expected, forgive me.

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2 thoughts on “The Diva Frock: I’m not vain, it’s Art Nouveau’s fault.

    Margaret Lobegeiger said:
    July 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Wonderful! Have my dress for wedding. You will love it. Luv M

    Sent from my Telstra Next G device

    Patricia said:
    July 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Beautiful dresses do give you a lot of joy.

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