by Terrence McNally
Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Sydney Opera House Studio until April 8
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Before Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Diana Ross, there was the Greek soprano, Maria Callas, a true diva whose operatic career ran from 1940 to 1965.
Known to be temperamental, scathing in her communications, demanding, narcissistic and otherwise self-centred as well possessing an impressive and unique talent, Callas was a gigantic personality of her era, and experienced actor Amanda Muggleton has taken on this hugely challenging role.
When Callas enters, it would be inaccurate to state that she breaks the fourth wall, because there’s none to start with. Audience members are attendees in a singing master class and Callas initiates dialogue with several individuals. This set-piece improv establishes Callas’ penchant for the amusing, bitchy remark. It felt like I was observing a Greek Dame Edna.
Because Muggleton doesn’t actually sing in this production, I wondered what it would have been like to have cast someone like Bernadette Robinson who is recognised for achieving an amazing vocal likeness to Callas and a multitude of other singers including Joan Sutherland.
Muggleton can naturally play big and has the intensity to pull off this character. She is supported by opera “students” Kala Gare, Jessica Boyd (sopranos) and tenor Tomas Dalton, although their main purpose is to be devices for advancing the story and to provide foils for Callas.
It was a delight to see piano accompanist Dobbs Franks who first came to Australia in 1960 as the Musical Director/Conductor for the Garnet Carroll production of West Side Story. The 84 year-old is a legend who has worked with Ray Charles, Eartha Kitt, Rudolph Nureyev, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Robert Goulet, Kathryn Grayson, John Farnham, The Australian Ballet, Opera Australia and too many others to name. Franks almost seems to be overly-qualified for the part he plays in this production.
The role of Maria Callas in Master Class is not for the faint-hearted actor. It’s basically two hours and ten minutes of monologue bisected by an interval, so if you “dry”, you have nowhere to hide and it takes a skilled performer to retain an audience’s attention for the entire performance.
After the opening night curtain calls, Gare, Boyd and Dalton sang solos, which were perfect for rounding off the performance.