“No applause. We’re here for work,” says faded but still powerful opera diva Maria Callas at the outset of Master Class, silencing us as she enters for her day’s business.
Callas is there to instruct her students — and us — on how to get the most out of their work by trusting the composer, filling in the details, and finding the fiery passion in the material.
She does this in an often harsh, imperious way, dotted with grand asides, bristling demands, and autobiographical reveries of personal psychodrama.
And even when cutting off the applause, this woman of contradictions seems to be begging for approval.
In its 1995 Broadway debut, Terrence McNally‘s play was given a riveting turn by stars Zoe Caldwell and Audra McDonald, who played artist and wannabe to the hilt and made their power struggle into an Olympic event.
This time, another Tony winner, Tyne Daly, is Callas, and she cuts a fleshier figure than the sticklike Zoe, with painted eyebrows going Divine-ward.
I didn’t totally cotton to her rhythms in Act One, when the character is showing off a lot, and some of the play’s contrivances seem distracting.
But by Act Two, when Maria is more focused on actually transforming her students at any cost, Tyne is earthy, sharp, bitchy, and moving.
When she teaches a student (Sierra Boggess, in Audra’s old role) how to play a full-throttle wicked Lady Macbeth, it’s almost like Callas is instructing Daly on how to instruct Bogus.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2011