This summer, to complement The Sembrich's season-long series ON WINGS OF SONG, the costume worn by Marcella Sembrich as the "Queen of the Night" in the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Mozart's THE MAGIC FLUTE in March of 1900 has been placed on display for the first time in over a decade.
"Because of the fragile condition of the fabric, we're unable to keep this costume on exhibit for extended periods of time," says Lisa H. Hall, Collections Committee Chair at The Sembrich.
The intricately designed costume by Bertha Pechstein of Berlin is comprised of silk velvet, silk georgette,
and sequins and is accompanied by a long silk chiffon veil with metallic embroidery and a jeweled
necklace and tiara.
"I can state with certainty that this costume is the original," says Robert Tuggle, Director of Archives at the Met, who is familiar with The Sembrich costume collection and counts this spectacular creation as his favorite.
During the era in which Sembrich performed, singers were required to supply their own costumes. So it was not unusual for an artist of Sembrich's status to have several copies of a particular costume made. But given the soprano's relatively few performances of the role at the Met (26 times between March of 1900 and April of 1904) and the elaborate construction of the design, Marcella Sembrich's "Queen of the Night" costume truly is "one of a kind."
On display, alongside the costume, is a vintage photo of Marcella Sembrich as the "Queen of the Night," taken in the photography studio of Aimé Dupont in 1890. Dupont, a Belgian-born American sculptor and photographer, served as the official photographer for the Metropolitan Opera during the late 19th century and is highly regarded for his portraits of opera singers.
Rounding out the display is a plaster bas relief of Marcella Sembrich as the "Queen of the Night" by H. Zalezna and an excerpt from a poem by music critic W.J. Henderson read to Madame Sembrich at a farewell dinner on her retirement from opera in 1909:
"Queen of the night, Queen of the singer's art,
Queen of the stage, Queen of the public's heart,
Hail and farewell! Your name is writ above.
Supreme in song, still, more supreme, in love."
"The sentiment expressed by Henderson in his poem, of Marcella Sembrich as the 'Queen of Song,' is the notion we want to convey to accompany our ON WINGS OF SONG performance series," states Hall. "This is why we chose to exhibit this prized costume for a limited time this summer."
By coincidence, The Sembrich's "Queen of the Night" costume is not the only version of this role on exhibit in our region this summer. The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown has on current display artifacts associated with the Met's 1967 production of THE MAGIC FLUTE designed by Marc Chagall, including the artist's own version of the "Queen of the Night" costume.
"We want to spread the word to opera-goers of this unique opportunity," says Sembrich Artistic Director Richard Wargo, "To see both the Met's original 'Queen of the Night' costume and Chagall's design. So we've linked up websites with the Fenimore and we're sharing information on our respective exhibits."
The Sembrich is open daily through September 15th, 10 to 12:30 and 2 to 5.
After September 15th, this delicate artifact of operatic history will be returned to climate-controlled storage at the Hyde.
"This may be the last opportunity for people to see it," says Hall.