It’s funny how after so many years living abroad I still don’t feel completely comfortable going for a theatrical play. Not because I don’t like it, but simply because I’m afraid I’ll miss too many small language nuances or lyric expressions and in the end I won’t be able to absorb everything the way it was intended.
But those who know me are well aware that I’m not much of a quitter either, so it took me 5 minutes to make a decision and grab a ticket for a play that not only touched one of my favourite music genres — opera — but was also lead by a veteran actress Tyne Daly, who you may recognise from Judging Amy or Cagney & Lacey.
When the Master Class (being the play reviewed here), was originally announced, I could see a lot of negative and sarcastic comments popping up all over the Internet on how minor and insignificant actress Daly was, but my life taught me not to judge people like that. Hell, I sucked as a designer for a long, long time (or, well, at least I like to think I’m not that horrible anymore ;), so who am I to deny anyone else a well deserved praise?!
My answer to all those haters out there: I put on my usual stage night blazer and headed towards a small but cosy Vaudeville Theatre off London’s Strand. And, boy, what a treat it was!
I always say that you don’t require a crazyload of effects and fancy gadgets to make a lasting impression on people. Simplicity and honesty are such powerful tools and you can’t replace them with anything else. That’s why productions like Avatar, for example, completely failed in my eyes, and I slept through half of them. But back to the subject…
The story circles around the late life of Μαρία Κάλλας, or Maria Callas if you will — a true Greek goddess of operatic scene — who not only conquered all the biggest opera houses in the world but also had a colourful and tragic life easily worth 10 careers of modern celebrities.
Six years before her lone death in Paris, and long after she lost her voice, she appeared in distinguished Juilliard School in New York to give a series of master classes, which are also foundation for the play.
It follows a very simple scheme (perhaps slightly too predictable), which I’m not going to reveal here, just in case you decided to watch in on your own (which I hope you do!). What it does, on the other hand, that most of other productions don’t, is interacting with the audience. Tyne addresses few people seating close to the stage and even asks for opinions few times, which is definitely something I liked.
The biggest trouble I had with the story was the way it portraited Callas — having no clue whatsoever about her life makes it slightly difficult for me to judge, but it seemed very shallow, focusing on parts of her personality rather than complete image. I even recall someone describing it as reality-TV-like theatre direction, though I wouldn’t push it that far. Perhaps slightly populist, but I don’t believe it was supposed to be a truly biographical picture anyway. If you don’t think of it as a big time drama, you should enjoy it as I did. It had those few crucial moments when the whole theatre went silent, especially the ending, but it probably won’t make you ponder your existence.
Fortunately to balance it out, it’s unarguably funny! Though if you expect the casual “ha ha” laugh, you won’t find it there — it’s more like you’re submerged in the sea of bitter-sweetness, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes simply angry or pityful. And Tyne nailed it. Simple as that.
She was so good that I completely forgot where I was and that she was not much of diva/teacher in real life. Funnily enough she also reminded me of a brilliant Math teacher I had a great honour to be tutored by years ago, so all of that together gave me a very memorable experience. It was incredible to follow such a performance from so close — terrifying at times, but also heartbreaking and cheerful.
One cannot forget about the rest of a cast, who although a second plan, were very well chosen for their roles and definitely had a strong stage presence: hilarious Jeremy Cohen and Gerard Carey, Irish-feisty mezzo-soprano Naomi O’Conneli, annoyingly quirky Dianne Pilkington and a heart-warming but powerful tenor Garrett Sorenson.
I also believe that it’s a perfect moment to say: Oh, for crying out loud, just go and watch it while it’s on!
If in doubt, check out the official website for an interview with Tyne and some audience comments. You won’t regret it. Promise!
I’ll finish it in the most appropriate way I can think of — giving well deserved respect to one and only La Divina — Maria Callas: