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A CurtainUp London Review
Tyne Daly takes on the showcase role as Maria Callas the opera singer as she teaches three singing students in front of an audience based on the sessions she held at the Julliard School in New York. It is almost like a tribute concert, insofar as those, who seemed to appreciate it the most, were devotees of Callas for whom the suspension of disbelief worked. Their reaction to Daly as Callas reminded me of The Rat Pack crowd who react as if they are seeing the real Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr when at least we could hear what they sounded like. In Masterclass Callas has already lost her singing voice.
Daly is indeed magnificent in this role, showing Callas’ passion about her music and not afraid to callously trample the egos of her student singers if it will make them better performers. With a magnificent pair of eyebrows, but little forehead motility, and a dark wig she does look like the operatic diva. She gives us some anecdotes about her life and her lovers, including Aristotle Onassis, but there is little that we do not already know. Of course McNally’s play was written in 1994-5 so there is nothing fresh to say about the fabled soprano who exhausted her voice in just twelve years from 1953 to 1965. She died twelve years’ later in 1977 aged just 53.
There are snatches of the music from the students, soprano Sophie de Palma (Dianne Pilkington) who is scarcely allowed to get out a note, tenor Anthony Candolino (Garrett Sorenson) who has an easier ride and finally poor Sharon Graham (Naomi O’Connell) who disappears to sob her heart out in the cloakroom before re-entering and singing a magnificently acted piece from Verdi’s Macbeth.
I think that this is the third time I have seen Masterclass, once in London and once in the States and this is probably the best incarnation of Callas, but the play itself lacks depth so she becomes a caricature. The biographical details are just snippets or headlines. The play is at its best when she talks about how to feel what the operatic heroines are feeling. Jeremy Cohen plays Emmanuel Weinstock the pianist accompanist, who used to the whims and vagaries of the musically gifted is tolerant and accommodating. Gerard Carey gives a glimpse of a casual stagehand not versed in how to appease the mighty diva in a trivial diversion.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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