Terrence McNally’s Master Class makes robust drama out of a class taught by revered opera singer Maria Callas, in which she reveals a little about the art of singing opera, and a great deal more about “art” in general and the art of living well (an art which, it seems, sometimes eluded her). It’s a meditation on art-making by one of the country’s leading gay playwrights – right up my alley. I like the play very much, and think that director Stephen Wadsworth’s well-appointed Broadway revival production makes a terrific introduction to both McNally and Callas.
At a couple of points in the play McNally takes us out of the classroom and into Callas’ inner monologue as her students sing: some memories of her rise to fame, some less happy memories about her turbulent affair with Aristotle Onassis. Wadsworth has staged these scenes – dialogue “arias”, really – with great inventiveness and clarity. As Callas, Tyne Daly charismatically conveys what an exciting woman she was, what it was about Callas that allowed her to create legendary larger-than-life performances.
I was most interested in the way McNally explores the difficulty Callas had as a teacher: how do you teach inspiration or transmit what is in the end a very unique and personal gift. Provocative questions, in a play and production that are both artful and richly entertaining. As Sophie De Palma, the student one feels gets the most out of Callas’s tutelage, Alexandra Silber makes an extraordinary Broadway debut, successfully concealing her glamorous good looks behind Sophie’s awkward geekiness. Tenor Anthony Candolino is supposed to deliver a musical performance so beautiful that Callas is left speechless – and as Anthony, Garrett Sorenson more than delivers.
Master Class will be of greatest interest to opera fans (like McNally himself), but it is an engaging drama on in its own terms, and this revival hits all the marks. Recommended.
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