Friday, February 23, 2018

MASTER CLASS


Photo by Richard De Chazal

Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Produced by Andrew Kay
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 24 February

Reviewed by Len Power 22 February 2018

Whether you were interested in opera or not, the name Maria Callas was known to everyone in the second half of the 20th Century.  Born in New York, USA, she received her musical training in Greece.  She made her professional debut in 1941 in Athens but her operatic career was subsequently established in Italy.  Her career was over by 1965, cut short many say by a weight loss regime that affected her vocal technique.

Callas was as famous for her beauty, her temperamental behaviour during and after her career, and her affair with Aristotle Onassis, as she was for her singing and acting of the great operatic roles.  She is still one of classical music's best-selling vocalists.

Terrence McNally’s 1995 play, ‘Master Class’, presents a fictional master class at New York’s Juilliard School by opera singer Maria Callas near the end of her life in the 1970s.

As Maria Callas, Amanda Muggleton shows every facet of this fascinating woman in later life.  She’s demanding of all around her, tough and intimidating on the surface and unintentionally funny at times.  As the play progresses, we begin to see the real woman underneath – a deeply unhappy person battered by the demands of her opera career and her personal life in the international spotlight.  Muggleton is quite simply extraordinary in the role and the effect of her performance lingers long after the show is over.

Kala Gare and Amanda Muggleton - photo by Dom Northcott
The three singers – or ‘victims’, as Callas refers to them - all give fine performances, too.  The two sopranos arguably represent the early, overweight Callas and her later transformation into a stylish beauty and the sexy tenor is a symbol of the men in Callas’s life.  Kala Gare nicely plays the modern, good-looking young soprano doing her best to please Callas.  Jessica Boyd displays excellent comic timing as the over-weight soprano in a flamboyant wedding cake dress and Tomas Dalton is a handsome, super-confident young tenor who thinks his maleness and over-familiarity will win Callas over.  All three sing superbly as well.

Jessica Boyd and Amanda Muggleton - photo by Dom Northcott
Dobbs Franks, who has had a brilliant career internationally as a conductor, gives a nicely quiet performance as the piano accompanist who copes well with Callas’s demands and Ben Howlett, in the small role of a stagehand, uses body language to good comic effect to display an uncaring attitude.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher has directed the show with a clarity and simplicity of design, keeping the focus on the people.  Even if you’re not interested in opera, you’ll be as fascinated by Callas as we all were in the 20th century.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

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