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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Wadsworth’

Even though the clue is in the title, I hadn’t quite clocked that this play was going to be almost entirely set in a, well, Master Class! Terrence McNally tells the story of Maria Callas by showing her conducting a Master Class with three young opera singers on stage in a theatre in front of an audience. This cleverly makes you part of the play and allows the actress to involve and interact with the audience. In particular, it means she’s talking directly at you, making a lot of eye contact, heightening the belief that you’re watching Callas herself.

Though there is a scene at the end of the first act where the scenery disappears and we witness a dialogue between Callas and Onassis (she speaks the words of both) and another towards the end of the second act where we hear more about her personal life story, most of the play comprises the merciless persecution of three singers as she prowls the stage barking instructions and advice, throwing withering looks and spitting acid lines. This is how we learn about both her professional life and the art form itself.

Tyne Daly, with severe make-up and a fierce expression which hardly ever leaves her face is simply extraordinary. By moving her head and her eyes, she gives us a whole catalogue of attitudes and emotions including contempt, indignation, impatience, disdain, regret, arrogance, superiority and vulnerability. She has some terrific put-downs and bitchy lines to go with these expressions and she commands the stage like few actors can or few characters allow.

The supporting cast is, as a result, just that. However, Garrett Sorenson sings Caravadossi’s aria from Act I of Tosca better than a fair few of the renditions I’ve heard in an opera house (and I’ve heard a fair few) and Naomi O’Connell deserves an award for getting through a whole chunk of Verdi’s Macbeth whilst being talked over, glared at  and prodded. Jeremy Cohen’s piano accompaniment is excellent, but he’s also a character in the play. The men get off better than the women (jealously that they can still sing?).

I don’t know if she really was as much of a cow as depicted here, but it makes for good theatre and story telling, however biographically accurate it is. You can tell it’s written and directed by people who understand opera (Director Stephen Wadsworth is a renowned opera director and teacher as well as a director of plays). I come to it as both an opera and theatre lover, but I’m not sure that matters – and you can’t miss a performance as good as this, as they don’t turn up that often.

The Whatsonstage Q&A after the performance was the icing on the cake. The producer, director and playwright, as well as Tyne Daly, gave up their time and it was very insightful. When Tyne walked on the stage after the others I gasped because her appearance as herself confirmed that I’d just seen a terrific performance

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