Singing for the Teacher

Master Class. At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, January 5.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

show_02-1.jpgMaria 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

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.


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