Talk about ending their season on a high note, Gulfshore Playhouse is doing just that with their spectacular production of “Master Class.” The Tony award-winning play takes place in an empty opera hall at Julliard where opera diva Maria Callas subjects her students to constructive criticism. She reminds everyone that singing is serious business. She doesn’t bite, she barks, however some of her students might disagree.
Marina Re in the role of Callas, becomes Callas. It is a performance that blows you away. She shares her passion for opera and the tireless pursuit of perfection that resulted in one of the greatest opera voices of all time. Terrence McNally’s play isn’t just about a master class, it is a master class. Callas addresses the audience directly as if they were her students. The play is based on true events. Maria Callas taught a series of master classes at Julliard in the early 1970s, just before her untimely death in 1977. It was not long after Aristotle Onassis had left her for Jackie Kennedy in 1968.
Callas has a monologue in the first act where she shares thoughts of her relationship with Onassis. One could call it elegant revenge. The moment is made even more poignant hearing the real Callas singing in the background. For me it was a highlight of the play.
Students accompanied by a live piano player (Charles Czarnecki) come on and off stage to sing their chosen pieces. Marina Re gives an unforgettable performance as Callas, filling her with a humanity that makes you feel you know the woman. She orders the stagehand (Michael Turkzynski) around, wanting a footstool one minute and a cushion the next.
Clearly, Marina Re is the star of the production, but she is joined by an excellent supporting cast. Czarnecki plays so beautifully I thought it was a recording at first. The three student singers Glenn Steven Allen as Tony, Christine Cornell as Sophie, and Leah Edwards as Sharon, all have beautiful voices, however only Allen and Edwards have the chance to actually sing their chosen arias. Cornell only gets one note out of her mouth before Callas says, “Stop”. Edwards shows up wearing a long, pink chiffon gown to which Callas replies, “Are you going some place after this? This is a Master Class not Cinderella’s Ball.”
It is surprising and enjoyable that “Master Class” is so humorous. The subject matter, music, is taken very seriously, and although Callas is a passionate person, there is a playfulness to her that prevents things from being too heavy. She loves to say “Poof, I am invisible.” As if that could happen.
I hope everyone reads the actor bios in the program as they are most impressive. Director Kristen Coury is known for bringing the right people to the right roles. “Master Class” is being performed in Daniels Pavillion at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts , 5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard in Naples. Tickets are available through the Phil box office, 239-597-1900. You don’t have to be a fan of Maria Callas or of opera to like “Master Class”, however if you are a fan, like me, you will truly enjoy this masterful production.
by Di Saggau, The River & Island Sun
April 7, 2013