Thursday, July 7, 2011

Master Class

Posted by Mondschein

"Master Class" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, June 26, 2011

Terrence McNalley's 1995 fantasia of Maria Callas conducting a master class at the Julliard School in the 1970s returns to Broadway courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club. 

Playing La Divina is an unlikely Tyne Daly, whose Callas simmers and seethes through the thinnest of skins, bristling at the smallest perception of a slight to a star of her caliber.  Ms. Daly masters the intricate diction of the singer beautifully, though she felt occasionally less than clear as she navigated the memory segments, interacting with her first husband, then Onassis.  Callas was a consummate acting singer - a novelty in opera at the time.  As she coaches each of the three "victims" (her word), she sends each one back to their score to find the answers in the composer's music and text.  (It's a solid performance/coaching/directing technique best and most recently demonstrated by David Cromer's recent productions of "Our Town" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs.")  Ms. Daly's Callas is not subtle though she strives for elegance.  The narcissistic fragility interrupts too often.

The first victim, Sophia De Palma (Alexandra Silber) whimpers and gushes through interruption after interruption of her aria from La Sonnambula. Awed by Callas, Sophie takes every verbal jab and asks for more.  Ms. Silber holds up well.

Next is Sharon Graham (Sierra Boggess in the role which won Audra MacDonald her first Tony).  She doesn't even get her first note out before fleeing in humiliation.

Anthony Candolino (Garrett Sorenson), the tenor, strides on next and in stereotypical tenor form, pushes back on every shove from Callas.  Her disdain melts as he sings Cavaradossi's first aria from Tosca. Visibly shaken by it, she dismisses him with the same advice to focus on the score.   The classically trained Mr. Sorenson does indeed have the voice that Anthony claims.  And, like Anthony, he still needs to work on the acting.

Sharon returns to prove herself, setting off a veritable battle of Lady MacBeths, as she sings the entrance from Verdi's opera.  Ms. Boggess gives it her best, and for the most part succeeds.

This is Mr. McNalley at his best, juxtaposing the rejected, fading diva against three vocal students whose chosen material strikes careful parallels to her own life and relationship with Aristotle Onassis.  Sophie's aria echoes Callas' memory of the news that Onassis had married Jackie Kennedy.  Tony's aria prompts the memory of how Onassis first loved her.  It is Sharon's that gets the most interesting.  In it, Lady MacBeth begins her plot to push her husband into actions that would make him king.  As she coaches and intimidates Sharon, Callas becomes Lady MacBeth and Sharon, MacBeth, the target of her machinations - it's brilliant writing.

Master Class is on a limited run through August 14.  Get ticket information here.

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