Master Class: An Audience with Maria Callas – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Elizabeth O’Gorman

Writer: Terence McNally

Director: Conor Hanratty

Class and Craft

Put it in your diary now! This play is a treat for anyone involved in the performing arts and for anyone who enjoys attending live performances.

Master Class is based on a series of public lessons which the renowned opera singer, Maria Callas, gave in the Julliard School of Music, New York. The playwright Terence McNally constructs the magnetic persona of Callas through her comments on the aspiring singers who attend the class seeking her guidance and through Callas’s reflections on her past glories. The role is superbly played by Caitriona Ni Mhurchu who convinces as Callas. Through a simple shoulder shrug, she effortlessly transitions from the scenes in the classroom to the reflective monologues reconstructing Callas’s life, the distinction between past and present under lined by Paul Keogan’s lighting changes.

Callas’s commentary on the three aspiring opera singers is both instructive and uproariously funny as she berates the students for their ignorance of the arias they sing and their heedlessness of the commitment required to be a performing artist. Her insight to the music and librettos display her own profound dedication to her craft and the unseen background work involved in creating an operatic role. Her advice is pertinent all performing artists.

McNally cleverly recreates Callas’s life story through glimpses of her past enmeshed throughout the scenes. The audience is gradually moved from delight at Callas’s acerbic wit to a sense of pathos at her personal life circumstances and the decline of her voice in mid-career.

From early adulthood Callas was cast in both heavy dramatic operatic roles and lighter coloratura roles displaying an astonishing vocal range and resonance. Her voice was lyrical and powerful and could convey an emotional breadth that was truly remarkable. These attributes highlighted Callas as an outstanding talent and elevated her to the status of ‘diva’. At the height of her career Callas enjoyed worldwide celebrity status. Allusions to this life of fame and fortune are peppered throughout Master Class, and contrast strongly with the post-career music school context. The school venue is neatly depicted through a very sparse stage setting with an ugly serviceable table, an inordinately high chair, a functional music stand and the (mismatched) cushion and footstool demanded by Callas. The gleaming black baby-grand piano (wonderfully played by accompanist Niall Kinsella) and expensive acoustic wooden screen accentuates the primacy given to music and the subtle affront to the comfort of the once legendary ‘Divina’.

Each of the arias chosen by the three students evokes a flashback for Callas. While she reminisces in a vivid monologue, an original recording of a past performance plays in the background, reminding the audience of her sublime talent. Ni Mhurchu lives and breathes the essence of Callas, conveying Callas’s fiery artistic temperament, her intelligence and above all her phenomenal work ethic which she expects her students to share. Rebecca Rodgers, Leo Hanna and Kelli-Ann Masterson, all classically trained opera singers, stun with their vocal performances, sending shivers up the spine with the musicality of their delivery. Rodgers delights and is endearing as the ingénue who is mercilessly dissected by Callas. Hanna portrays a conceited buffoon who is humbled by Callas and re asserts himself as a promising tenor. Masterson’s character provides the denouement of the play as, following Callas’s recommendation that she confines herself to the lighter classical repertoire, she pours scorn on Callas’s deteriorating voice and reputation. The diatribe punctures Callas and the deflated master calls an end to the class. Gathering her possessions, she departs.

Director Conor Hanratty paints a portrait of a flawed human being whose life encompassed ‘the stars and the gutter’ and embodied the grit and intelligence of an artist true to her craft. Art is beauty and performing properly and with honesty is the principle Callas expounds during this riveting two hours of drama.

The script, the acting, the singing and the staging of this performance is one of the best pieces of theatre you’ll attend this year. Grab a seat while you can.

Some extremely lucky folk will bag a ticket to the Thursday 25th 2pm master class being conducted by the internationally renowned Irish soprano Tara Erraught and witness a live Master Class in action.

Runs Until 27th May 2023.

The Review's Hub Score

A Class Act!

Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

One Comment

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub