Master Class. At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, January 5.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Maria Callas came to life in this entertaining and moving play about her unique approach to teaching young opera singers. Karen Kondazian was wonderful as Callas, more than holding her own in a role that requires expert timing, an indestructible will, and above all, sensitivity to the many moods and motives of this extraordinary artist and personality. While the premise of Master Class — that Maria Callas was a diva who took out her frustration at no longer being able to sing on her students at Juilliard — may be what pulled people into the theater, it was the genius of both the script and this production that exposed the strength and beauty Callas shared with the very same students she berated. Kondazian was particularly adept at moving between satire and pathos, and she succeeded admirably in making us believe that Callas, despite her shortcomings, was a true artist with a great vision, as well as an effective, if erratic, teacher of other singers.
The first student, soprano Sophie De Palma, was played by the beautiful and ebullient Khori Dastoor. The audience held its collective breath as Callas continually interrupted Sophie, often before she had gotten more than a single note out of her pretty mouth. The sequence in which Callas asked Sophie to cover her ears while she explained to the audience that the young student had failed to produce “a look” — that signature style that is so important to successful performers — was especially poignant. Standing center stage with her fingers in her ears while the teacher spoke about her in disparaging terms, Sophie symbolized the fate of all students who are forced into the service of their teachers’ egos when used as negative examples.
Andreas Beckett was up next as the naïve but talented Anthony Candalino, who wore a hilarious suit. Callas’s tender treatment of her student was by turns condescending and fawning. This set up the final conflict between Callas and the second soprano, Sharon Graham, marvelously played by Fleur Phillips in a full-length pink evening gown. Needless to say, the gown was more than Callas could take, and Sharon was in for some rough going before she was through, but the character gave as well as she got, chastising Callas for her transparent envy of her younger, more vocally sound pupils. Fortunately, this resistance brought out the best in Callas, and her instructions to Sharon about how to bring Lady Macbeth to life were among the most interesting and moving lines in this brilliant play.