In case the sign outside the door, saying, “Class is in session,” wasn’t enough, the opening line of Terrence McNally’s love letter to the legend of Maria Callas immediately sets the tone of what is to follow.
“No applause. We’re here to work.”
And work we do. Under the sensitive direction of Todd Nielsen, Master Class takes the students of the audience on a theatrical journey through the psyche of Maria Callas, unearthing her own past as she attempts to pass her knowledge onto budding opera singers. Gigi Bermingham tackles the complex role of Callas with finesse, capturing her coquettish, alluring and often sociopathic charm, reeling each student in with her self-effacing behavior, then going in for the kill, and unmasking her own demons in the process. With each “victim”, this Greek Goddess of Opera reveals the Achilles’ heel in each of her hopefuls. Whether it is done for sport, as a vigorous massage to her ego, or if these lessons are of actual help to the subject, is left for the audience to decide, and that is the intriguing part of this production.
Danielle Skolsky plays the first student, Sophie DePalma, with the perfect naïveté and vulnerability of a young soprano of inexperience. She somehow evolves before our eyes during her session, even if she is never allowed to complete her aria, “Ah non credea mirarti,” from La Sonnambula. As tenor Anthony Candolino, Tyler Milliron embodies all that is loved and hated about tenors. Beginning with false bravado and then very tenderly exposing his squishy underbelly as he reveals his true desire to be an artist, he touches Callas and the students of the audience with his rendition of “Recondita armonia,” from Puccini’s Tosca. Jennifer Shelton, as soprano Sharon Graham, portrays the role with the regality of a future Callas in the making. With the same stage fright and bite of a young Callas, she embodies the essence of a diva, challenging the teacher by refusing to take the destructive path Callas lays before her. The playwright’s decision to have this young soprano attempt Lady MacBeth, as well as the Queen of the Night, speaks volumes about the folly of youth, and alludes to the idea that Sharon Graham might in fact be on her own destructive path, whether she knows it or not.
As accompanist Emmanuel Weinstock, James Lent offers steadfast admiration of La Divina* throughout, as well as a sensitive musical interpretation to the participating singers. He shows his cheeky side as he unabashedly waves to the audience at the beginning of the class. Jeremy Mascia, as the stagehand, keeps it all in perspective, representing somewhat the mindset of a disinterested public, unaffected by the muscle-flexing of “true art” and all its self-importance. His slacker’s appearance and demeanor provided humor and a little dose of reality — a good contrast to Callas’ larger-than-life personality.
Opera enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy International City Theatre’s production of Master Class, playing March 20 through April 14, 2013: Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm.
For more information: http://ictlongbeach.org or call (562) 436-4610 for tickets.