Master Class : The Maria Callas Story starring Tyne Daly

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“Get yourself a look” is just one of the salty bits of advice tossed off by the legendary Maria Callas; it arrives early and often in Terrence McNally’s brilliant ‘Master Class’, and is subsequently augmented with deeper, darker life lessons offered up by one of opera’s most revered, scandalous, and controversial figures.

In this limited engagement revival of McNally’s (multiple Tony award winning) 1995 work, Tyne Daly assays the role of Callas, and at first may seem an odd fit. Callas was tightly wound, chic and fiery, while Daly has always possessed earthy and maternal (if rather intense) qualities. Upon her entrance onstage, Ms. Daly immediately does away with any preconceived doubts; she is Callas, strident, arrogant, with a sly humor communicated not just with McNally’s sharp, insightful words, but with oversized gesticulations borne of both her operatic training and Greek heritage.

Master Class utilizes an interesting conceit; based on a series of actual master classes that Callas gave at Julliard, the audience in the theater becomes the students in the school auditorium, observing, reacting, lending the show a unique layer of ‘realness’ (Daly is quick to curtail any unwanted applause, and at the performance I attended, acknowledged a random sneeze from an audience member with a simple ‘”bless you” then jumped right back into her monologue).

‘La Divinia’ as Callas was known, certainly had an interesting life; by all accounts she transformed herself from a heavyset ‘ugly duckling’ into a svelte and glamorous style icon, amazing audiences as a uniquely gifted and powerful soprano, and infuriating colleagues and critics with her arrogance and pettiness. She was lovers for many years with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who later left her for Jackie Kennedy.

All of this is broached in Master Class, as Daly (as Callas) alternately bullies and inspires the young singers brought before her. McNally infuses Callas’ dialogue with an incredible blend of acid wit, commitment to the importance of work and art, and the barely concealed shadows of her own difficult childhood and interior struggles. In startling flashback sequences, Daly is absolutely riveting as Callas, reliving both her glory days and most painful personal tragedies.

Daly is supported by a fine cast including the charming Alexandra Silber, humorous Garrett Sorenson, and a dazzling Sierra Boggess. One needn’t be a fan of opera to enjoy Master Class; it’s themes of ambition, art, and betrayal- both personal and professional- resonate fully and deeply, long after the final barb has been tossed, the last notes echoing in the rafters. Brava!

Terrence McNally’s MASTER CLASS, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street).

Through SUNDAY, AUGUST 14: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM. Matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 PM.

Tickets for MASTER CLASS are available by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200, online by visiting www.Telecharge.com, or by visiting the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office (261 West 47th Street). Ticket prices are $57 – $116.

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Mike Diamond is a writer, comedian and television personality based in New York City. He has hosted the Logo network’s ‘PopLab’ program, and also does video reporting for various web sites including 365Gay, TripOut, and EDGE. Mike was born in the bathroom of the Crisco Disco in 1973, is two inches taller than he appears on television, and has no gag reflex.

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