PICKSINSIX Review: MASTER CLASS
CALLAS: "Ho dato tutto a te."
The TimeLine Theatre Company production of Terrence McNally’s 1996 Drama Desk and Tony Award-winning “Master Class” now playing at Stage 773 traces the life and career of opera diva Maria Callas as immigrant, daughter, student, artist, spouse, lover and mentor starring one of Chicago’s most gifted actors, Janet Ulrich Brooks, as Callas. McNally’s play evokes the live experience of opera classes that were held twice a week at the Julliard School from October 1971 to March 1972.
“Master Class” delivers the lessons of a lifetime to three students, expertly cast as Tenor Tony (Eric Anthony Lopez), First Soprano Sophie (Molly Hernandez) and Second Soprano Sharon (Keirsten Hodgens), composites from the 25 of Callas’ students who participated in the Julliard events and based on McNally’s firsthand observations. A magnificent 12 foot Steinway grand piano is the centerpiece of the sweeping design by Arnel Sancianco that engulfs the thrust space to bring Callas, her students and accompanist Manny (Stephen Boyer) eye-to-eye with the audience.
That imposing juxtaposition helps Brooks immediately establish full and complete authority. At one juncture, as she sizes up the second of her three students, the teacher chides the young woman on her appearance then instructs her to start all over from the beginning. The consequences of the inappropriate exchange pries into the defiant Callas, exposing what is her essential truth: “Ho dato tutto a te.” — I gave everything to you.
Nick Bowling, a TimeLine founder and Associate Artistic Director, directs his 30th production with musical direction by Doug Peck. Ingeniously interspersed throughout McNally’s work are recordings from Callas’ professional career while the fiery temperament and her unequalled understanding of the composer’s intent erupts forcefully from the text in Brooks artfully rich performance.
Uniformly the voices of the students are exceptional. Hodgens delivers a powerful Lady Macbeth. Lopez gives a fine tenor performance and Hernandez is delightful as the soprano. Boyer is a superb musician and fine vocalist. It is Brooks, however, who is captivating as she navigates the story of the legendary artist who painfully struggled with obesity, a volatile marriage to Giovanni Battista Meneghini and anguish of her long-time relationship with Aristotle Onassis.
Although Maria Callas’ final performance on stage (in Tosca) was in July 1965, the Julliard master classes launched a series of recitals from 1973 to 1974 throughout Europe, the U.S and Asia. Life in the world of opera is not so far removed from our own, however. Callas’ legacy is summed in her teaching of the art – be passionate, feel it in your gut, show up prepared, be willing to sacrifice and give everything to the work and, ultimately, to the audience. That includes knowing when to take a final bow, which Callas sadly did in 1977 at the age of 53.
TIMELINE THEATRE COMPANY
through December 9th
1225 W. Belmont Avenue