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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "Master Class", Starring Tyne Daly, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

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Manhattan Theatre Club
Master Class
(Master Class Website)

By Terrence McNally

Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer

Directed by Stephen Wadsworth

At the
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

Tyne Daly
Sierra Boggess, Clinton Brandhagen, Jeremy Cohen
Alexandra Silber, Garrett Sorenson

Scenic Design: Thomas Lynch
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: Jon Gottlieb
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Production Stage Manager: Susan Cordon
General Manager: Florie Seery
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Artistic Producer: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Manager: Joshua Helman
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione
Artistic Line Producer: Lisa McNulty

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 9, 2011

For pure talent and charisma, Master Class, by Terrence McNally, in revival at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre, is unparalleled these days. I had seen Ms. Daly, when she hosted a 2008 Gala for Abingdon Theatre Company at Tavern on the Green, and she’s made quite a transformation here in the powerful persona of Maria Callas. I have recordings of Ms. Callas in concert solos and have read a bit about “La Divina’s” operatic and romantic highlights. In McNally’s play, which I had seen in its 1995 premiere, Ms. Callas is addressing the audience before, during, and after a master class for rising Juilliard opera singers in 1970 or 1971 (when these classes actually occurred). She opens the event with some comical, denigrating remarks about her past competition in the fiery world of opera divas and draws the audience in, toward her emotional neediness and obsession with another era. We all know about Callas’ stormy affair with Onassis, and how that turned out, but McNally saves those details for Act II.

Ms. Daly, as Ms. Callas, receives Sophie De Palma (Alexandra Silber), a frightened, hyperbolic opera student, and she inspires her to feel the passion of her lyrics. Various arias are sung by the soprano, Ms. Silber, as well as by soprano, Sierra Boggess, as Sharon Graham, and by tenor, Garrett Sorenson, as Anthony Candolino. Ms. Callas verbally prods, attacks, and reprimands all three students, for over-confidence and blandness, but, in actuality, none of these three vocal performers have the innate stage presence of “La Divina”, as Callas was called. After a couple of appearances, as Ms. Boggess and Ms. Silber re-appeared, their vocal talent was further unleashed to audience approval, but, even in a long gown, and singing her heart out, Ms. Boggess did not exude the fire in the belly that Callas demanded. But, she came close. As for Mr. Sorenson as Mr. Candolino, he used flirtation and charm to win Ms. Callas’ respect, and his vocal talent shows promise, as well.

Two stage scenes shifted seamlessly. The first is the spartan Juilliard auditorium, with Jeremy Cohen inhabiting the piano bench as Ms. Callas’ accompanist, Emmanuel Weinstock, a charming, but mostly vocally silent presence, and Clinton Brandhagen as the Juilliard stagehand, who’s ordered about by the arrogant diva. The second is a mysterious opera house stage, where Ms. Daly invokes Ms. Callas, Mr. Onassis, and intertwining tales of woe and triumph. In the second periodic scene, recordings of Callas waft through the theatre. In Act II, poignant stories about Onassis forcing Ms. Callas to abort his child and then ditching her like trash for the newly available trophy, Jackie Kennedy, create a hush in the theatre, with raw feelings shown bare. These were my favorite scenes, with the gorgeous background arias that could never be duplicated, and with Ms. Daly’s features and figure, in her dark, black costume, surrounded by a golden glow. Her final speech, so eloquent and poignant, is worth the ticket, alone.

Stephen Wadsworth, who’s been involved with The Met Opera, will surely become known on Broadway for his stunning direction, keeping Ms. Daly so center stage, so driven, so dynamic. Thomas Lynch’s scenery is rightly uncluttered, and the bits of opera staging add theatricality to the monologues (and dialogues, as Ms. Daly speaks Onassis’ words, as well). Martin Pakledinaz’ costumes are also uncluttered, with Ms. Daly in a silky black pantsuit, that complements her image, while Paul Huntley’s wigs bring us back to the 70’s. David Lander’s lighting is critical to the opera stage scenes, and they’re always dimly dramatic. Jon Gottlieb’s sound keeps the Callas recordings clear but never overwhelming, during Ms. Daly’s historical soliloquies. I hope to see this production of Master Class again, before it becomes history, itself. Tyne Daly’s performance is not to be missed. Kudos to Ms. Daly, and kudos to Maria Callas.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at