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The Sembrich Awarded Grant to Restore Opera Costume

The Sembrich Awarded Grant to Restore Opera Costume June 7, 2023
Photo of Marcella Sembrich’s 1900 “Queen of the Night” costume.
Marcella Sembrich’s 1900 “Queen of the Night” costume is intact but fragile.

The costume worn by Madame Sembrich as “Queen of the Night” in the Metropolitan Opera’s first production of Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ will be fully restored by one of the nation’s leading textile conservators, thanks in part to a $30,000 grant awarded The Sembrich by the Coby Foundation.

According to Caleb Eick, The Sembrich’s Director of Institutional Advancement, The New York-based Coby Foundation was established to support the textile and needle arts projects of non-profit organizations in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.

While the total cost of the costume’s restoration is expected to exceed $70,000, the Coby Foundation grant will help The Sembrich win support from other donors and additional grants, putting it firmly on the path toward its goal, said Eick.

The fully restored costume will be the centerpiece of The Sembrich’s centennial exhibition, to be held in 2024, one hundred years after Marcella Sembrich built her teaching studio on her Lake George estate.

According to Eick, The Sembrich’s collection of costumes, all worn by the opera star during her career, is unique among museums.

“Of that collection, the Queen of the Night costume is the most iconic,” said Eick.

“It is priceless,” said Richard Wargo, The Sembrich’s Artistic Director, who noted that costume will be 125 years old when it is displayed in 2024.

The costume was designed by Bertha Pechstein of Berlin and is made of silk velvet, silk georgette and sequins and includes a silk chiffon veil with metallic embroidery and a jeweled necklace and tiara.

According to theatrical designer Judy Levin, who included the costume in a 2016 exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, its embroidered metallic stars and sequins allude to a production that was staged in Berlin in 1816 that was inspired by Napoleon’s campaign through Egypt fifteen years earlier.

In Sembrich’s era, singers were required to supply their own costumes, so it was not unusual for an artist of Sembrich’s stature to have several copies of a particular costume made, said Lisa H. Hall, the president of The Sembrich’s Board of Directors.

“But given the soprano’s relatively few performances of the role and the elaborate construction of the design, this “Queen of the Night” costume truly is one of a kind,” said Hall. 

According to Eick, The Sembrich holds twelve complete opera costumes, including a bead-encrusted one made for the singer’s role as Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani, which is expected to cost $120,000 to restore.

The Sembrich and its 2023 exhibition, which showcases Gilded Age fashion accessories, opened for the season on May 27. The museum can be visited daily from 9 am to 12:30 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm.

Its 2023 Summer Festival, “Trailblazers” comprises 23 performances, talks and screenings and will run from June 11 to August 30. Tickets are now on sale for all events. For more information, visit

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