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Classical 101

A Different Kind of Master Class


[VIDEO DEAD] Terrence McNally's play Master Class tells the story of Maria Callas's [caption id="attachment_12935" align="alignright" width="133" caption="Maria Callas (1923-1977)"][/caption] public classes given at the Julliard School in New York in 1971 and 1972. After several workshops, the play opened on Broadway in 1995 starring the great Australian actress Zoe Caldwell.  Hers was a powerhouse performance- a lady who played Euripides should find Callas a breeze. To this day, Master Class has proven irresistible to fifty-ish actresses who can be stylish, direct and sexy. Caldwell was succeeded on Broadway by two similar powerhouses, the late Dixie Carter, and Patti Lupone. This TV clip from New York 1 in 1996 gives a taste of Lupone's performance. She went from Eva Peron  (Evita) to Maria Callas to Mama Rose (Gypsy). Withal, I imagine La Callas was more daunting: [youtube EY_UG84p-w4 490 344] Your humble servant damned near got bounced out of Lexington (MA) [caption id="attachment_12937" align="alignright" width="124" caption="Zoe Caldwell"]

Zoe Caldwell in Masterclass

High School in February 1972 for running off to New York on the 6 a.m. Greyhound out of Park Square to see two of these classes. I paid my $5 (a fortune!) and went in. I didn't know one did not approach icons for autographs.  Callas was surrounded by maids, cops and poodles but I marched right up and said hello, and she gave me a signed picture that is on my office wall as I type these words. The classes I saw would never have made a full length play. They were classes. Callas was coaching the 20 somethings Julliard singers. She only got testy if people were unprepared. When applause broke out she would say, "Well, we're all wonderful, but no applause, okay?" What I noticed and what Patti Lupone catches perfectly was the New York of Callas. This was a dame from a tough neighborhood in Washington Heights, who could greet DeGaulle backstage at the Paris Opera as he bent to kiss her hand, and yell "Lay off, willya!?!" to pesky reporters. Faye Dunaway came through Columbus a few years ago with [caption id="attachment_12939" align="alignright" width="104" caption="Faye Dunaway"]

Faye Dunaway in Masterclass

Master Class. People flocked in because she was Faye Dunaway. Fair enough. It was worth it to see Bonnie Parker and Mommy Dearest-but of opera and vocal terms used in the play Dunaway knew little. She was playing dress up with Maria Callas. Rumor had it Dunaway owned the film rights, but so far, no film.  Rumor also has it that these rights have passed on to Sohpia Loren and now to Cher.  Well, why the hell not? If she could endure Sonny for all those years..... The most recent production of Master Class I know about was a few months ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, with Tyne Daly. Here's a segment from the Kennedy Center production introduced by playwright Terence McNally: [youtube 06ZvB5i8FgU&feature=related490 344] Rita Moreno too has done the part but everyone who saw her claimed [caption id="attachment_12941" align="alignright" width="97" caption="Dixie Carter in Master Class"]


Dixie Carter WAS Callas. The play is a fun read, and is clearly not meant to be a recreation of months of master classes. Again, those would hardly make a play.  Terence McNally and I were guests together a number of times for Texaco Opera Quiz-. He wrote this play with superb dramatic skill and love for the art form. And listen, if Cher does the movie,  good on her! Let's give Maria Callas the final words and notes.  No doubt this is how she would want to be remembered.   Norma, Act 1, Paris 1964. Maria Callas died in 1977. [youtube jiQRTN3FEcw 490 344] --Christopher Purdy