Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD

There was an irony at Lincoln Center last week that escaped the pages of The New York Times. Four fabulous nights of "The Ring" — Gods, heroes, Valkyries, villains, star-crossed lovers — vs. The Three Rings of the Barnum and Bailey-clad audience.

Wagner’s "Der Ring des Nibelungen" is an extraordinary work of music, myth, drama and spectacle with gods and maidens larger than life itself. I saw "The Ring" first in the late 1980s. I had to attend matinee performances on four consecutive Saturdays, because my work prevented me from attending the five-hour nightly performances. I never knew when I would have to deliver a baby or perform surgery in the early morning hours.

To prepare myself, I listened to tapes of the entire opera and read the libretto over and over to become familiar with the many characters and themes. Over the years I have come to know these Gods, heroes, Valkyries and villains and star-crossed lovers well.

Last week in New York, the Lincoln Center Festival and the Metropolitan Opera co-presented the Kirov Opera’s version of "Der Ring des Nibelungen." It was now possible for me to see the four operas that make up this cycle on four successive nights. Monday: "Das Rheingold’: Tuesday: "Die Walkure"; Wednesday: "Siegfried"; and Thursday: "Gotterdammerung."

These performances were sold out. I only managed to get tickets by calling a friend who had a friend who knew a person and I got lucky. Boy, did I get lucky: Row H 108, right behind the conductor. Oh, joy!

Monday night’s audience was resplendent, well turned out. At least 80 percent would have escaped the fashion police. Almost all the men wore jackets, not all wore ties, and no one appeared to be in sneakers, unless they also had a cane. The women had made an effort: simple chic dresses, unusual summer costumes, real shoes, jewelry, some make-up, nice hair. An A- audience for a summer crowd for this auspicious occasion. The Rhine Maidens would have been pleased.

Subsequent days saw a swift decline in sartorial elegance. Men and women wore shoes I would not have worn at home. Half the crowd appeared not to have combed their hair. The clothing would not have been accepted at a thrift shop. Jewelry was rare, style absent. I couldn’t imagine that people would attend the opera looking so shabby. Most of the audience had been present for the entire week. Perhaps familiarity had bred contempt.

Certainly, respect for that wonderful opera house alone could have prompted the men and women there to make some effort to be well dressed.

Fortunately my seat mate on Tuesday and Wednesday was a well-dressed man who was knowledgeable about opera and art. During the long intermissions, he distracted me somewhat from the sea of Bermuda shorts, spandex and flip-flops.

Gotterdammerung provided some of the most impressive examples of justice, both mortal and divine, that exist in the Western Canon. On Thursday night, I actually felt that this audience could use some Wagnerian justice, or at least an intervention, for their lack of grace and grooming.

Standards have changed, I know, and we are a more relaxed society. Gone are top hats and opera coats with elbow length kid gloves. But, clearly, money was not the issue; this was not an audience that was challenged financially. That so many of them could not make the effort to present themselves in a manner befitting the occasion was a major disappointment.

Given that almost everyone in the audience was over 40, it is not as if the Xbox generation had come to the Met. It is as if the people who showed up for the Kirov Ring Cycle had forgotten how important beauty and elegance are to the entire aesthetic experience.

I, for one, relish equally the ritual of dressing for a lovely evening out, often as much as I do the event itself. Dressing up and presenting myself well in public is another of those gifts I give to myself. Looking well, and well-put together, is a significant part of the experience of theater, opera, music and dance. When people feel that they must dress down, or present themselves shabbily, the experience is diminished for each of us.

Some New Yorkers insist that that the ultimate cool, anti-establishment posture is to be world-weary, jaundiced and always under dressed, whether for the president, "The Ring" or The Rolling Stones. Cognoscenti know that the ultimate expression of oneself is to dress as befits the occasion, not to fear looking well. "If for no one else, why wouldn’t we all do it for ourselves?"

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  • Barbara Tober July 31, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    In Response to Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD and her analysis of the Metropolitan Opera crowd and so many others we encounter today….
    Dr. Patricia Allen was properly outraged by the dreary, unkempt appearance of so many who attended the Russian Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera over a week ago. She is correct, of course. At so many public events in this City, and at so many “white tablecloth” restaurants where fine food is served, there seems to be an escalating lack of personal pride and grooming. Although the Fashion Magazines and Retailers hail (in vain, sadly) the “Return of the Dress” or “Elegance is Back”, an increasingly large number of “hard core” believers in slobism are creeping across the face and body of America.
    Why, indeed, we wonder would ANYone want to leave their front door looking as if they were out to walk the dog on a rainy day or running to the supermarket for a quart of milk when Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Frank Langella or Vanessa Redgrave are about to give the performance of a lifetime in their honor.
    For my entire life, I have always felt that I should not leave the house unless I was dressed appropriately – whether that meant a clean pair of pants, a camisole and a jacket, shirt or sweater (to GO to the supermarket or actually walk the dog). OR a gown or cocktail outfit to the opera, theatre, ballet etc.. Always, one should make “an effort” which means something glamorous yet suitable – if called upon – to go to the office and with a change of scarf or necklace, look presentable in the evening. For years this was my uniform and it worked. Nowadays, I am lucky enough to go home and change. I notice, however, that people dress for the office and actually GO HOME and put on Jeans to go to the opera or wherever and I am wondering… WHY?
    Well meaning copy cats of film images can get into style trouble too. There are those in impoverished circumstances who look at people with the means to be well dressed with equal outrage when they ape the body covering of poverty just to look “chic” to their own society: the ripped jeans, holes in shirts, etc. Then there is the ever present sex goddess; now the sex god as well …. Plenty of bare flesh or rippling muscles, tousled “bedroom” hair, pouty lips, the ever-present crotch shot, again the ripped jeans, etc. But if you always look as if you’re about to go to bed, then when you want to be especially alluring, there’s no more to be done …
    If this “look” is the uniform of the Drug Culture, then those of us who eschew heroin, meth and other poisons of the sort, might want to eschew the Drug Culture “Look” as well.
    In our eagerness to be “casual” and “withit” we seem to have lost all sense of beauty and elegance. Do we truly want to ape the concept of “gangsta rap”? Has deconstruction hit the world of fashion? It certainly has in the art market; but does this trend have to deconstruct the dignity of all human beings in the process?
    But let us look at the brighter side. This ill wind brings a Sea Change, and it comes from the young designers who are graduating from fashion schools across the country as we speak. From Fashion Institute of Technology – here in New York City – the Dean of FIT, Joyce Brown, and Director of their Museum, Valerie Steele, have created a Couture Council specifically to promote the success of young designers graduating from the school and embarking upon a career in the Fashion World.
    It is hoped that their expertise, flair and creativity will inspire not only the young, but by that mystical metaphysical action called “influence” which is so difficult to engineer but which often happens of its own accord, the concept of BEAUTY will once again raise its triumphant head at all ages.
    Recently, VOGUE Magazine’s coverline reads: LOOKING FABULOUS: From 19 to 91.
    Proof that Looking Good is the Best Revenge is the fact that one of the first acts of a recovering mental patient is his or her renewed attention to their appearance. Years ago, I volunteered for a “Beauty as Therapy” program through the Fashion Group International at a local mental hospital in Manhattan. Our job was to teach the group of about-to-be-released female patients how to sew a nice dress or two-pi.jpgece outfit to wear OUT, which took a month or so during the final stages of their recovery, and then prior to the final Big Day of release, to hold seminars on makeup and hairstyles. On the last day, a Fashion Show was held with each woman modeling her own creation; yes, haltingly, tentatively, then more boldly and finally to all our applause. Tears were shed, Hugs were enjoyed all around. The attention to detail, and the appreciation for our efforts and their efforts was heartwarming to say the least, and totally illustrative of one of life’s enduring truths.
    More recently and for several years now, a group of women have raised several million dollars with an initiative called “Dress for Success”. Originally this began with donations of Gently Worn clothes (don’t they say that for cars? “Previously Owned”) In any event, it has progressed beyond these early efforts into Career Fairs and Women Helping Women seminars where not only is the emphasis on grooming, but on deportment and achievement.
    Can we still wear Spandex? Sure, but one might aspire to some chic with their comfort. Will Flip-flops disappear? Probably not, but they might just be designed to enhance the silhouette rather than defying it. Will the demise of the trashy look mean the end of sexual allure? On the contrary… think of those movie goddesses of the 40’s we are privileged to see now on DVD. Will we lose our sartorial freedom? Of course not; there will be more choices than ever, but they CAN BE …. Attractive, alluring, enhancing! How could we possibly argue that this new elegance is …. Politically incorrect.
    The body is a treasure we often overlook in our constant search for the “other”. We overeat. We overindulge. We overdo. We overtax. But do we overdress? Hardly ever…. This is the age of the “shlepper”… and it’s time we put on the brakes, looked in the mirror, ate half as much and dressed twice as well. We would all feel better, look better, and acquire that elusive quality that we keep trying to instill in our children and those less fortunate … SELF ESTEEM!

  • Agnes Krup July 24, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    How very truly spoken. True, our times allow for more individual style — it doesn’t have to be a tie for a guy, a nice jacket, silk garment or noble linen shirt may do just nicely. But to appear stylish and cultured at an event that is, after all, reflecting and transcending style and culture seems mandated by taste and common sense. By dressing down, you do not only deprive yourself of the terrific experience of dressing up (okay, your loss), you also offend your fellow opera fans and appear disrespectful of the hardworking artists putting up the great spectacle in front of you. Sneakers, flip flops: try the Philharmonics’ concerts in the park!

  • Faith Childs July 23, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Tuesday night another performance in the Lincoln Center Festival came to life across the plaza at Avery Fisher Hall. Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII, who is recognized as a Living National Treasure in Japan, and the troupe, Heisei Nakamura-za premiered Hokaibo, a tragicomic tale of a bandit who seeks to seduce a princess.
    Kabuki is an ancient art form in which men perform all the roles, male and female in elaborate, period costumes with dramatically made-up faces. It is an exquisite experience, a spectacle combining theater, dance, and opera. At times the musicians are on stage with the actors. The staging is elaborate and intricate as if the prints of Hokusai had come to life.
    The troupe transformed Avery Fisher Hall into a shibaigoya, a period kabuki theater, by removing several rows of seats and the extending the stage into audience allowing the performers to roam through the audience, close enough to touch.
    Perhaps in recognition of the significance of this exceptional piece of theater, the audience was dressed exquisitely. Many women wore kimonos, with complicated bows, pillows, and layers of beautifully patterned cloth. Most of the audience was more traditionally dressed, with women in linen and silk shifts and the men in suits and jackets.
    How marvelous to attend such a wonderful performance and be among so many people who chose to mark the occasion by being well turned out. Without doubt, being among the beautifully dressed audience heightened the experience.