Master Class is a portrait of Callas in the context of the master classes she gave at the Juilliard School in New York in 1971, at a time when she herself had not sung in six years. In the play she is seen working with three students – two sopranos and a tenor. Aside from her biting wit, she is often blunt and even harsh in her efforts to mentor and prepare the singers for the cut-throat world of operatic performance. The play’s riveting theatricality is truly ignited by Callas’ emotional outbursts and the soaring arias performed under her guidance.
2023 marks the 100th anniversary of Maria Callas’ birth. Born in New York in 1923 to a family of impoverished Greek immigrants, Callas’ rise to stardom and her recognition as the greatest dramatic singer of all time remains unchallenged. In Master Class, Terrence McNally, who was a devoted fan of ‘La Divina’ and watched all of her performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, recreates her genius, recounts her triumphs and tribulations and reveals the tempestuous personality that often led to clashes and disputes with opera managers and colleagues during her career.
As the five-hander play progresses, the daunting diva shares insights and memories, recalling her experiences on the world’s grandest opera stages, her marriage to the wealthy industrialist Meneghini and her highly publicised and ultimately heart breaking affair with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. While her life recollections in the play are vivid, McNally once explained that Master Class was never meant to be a docudrama, but rather a work of fiction. It is foremost about the price an artist must often pay in the pursuit of excellence and greatness.
Pieter Toerien in association with Cape Town Opera (CTO) will present MASTER CLASS at Montecasino, a riveting play written by the late American playwright, librettist and five-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love!Valour!Compassion!, Ragtime, The Lisbon Traviata).
Directed by CTO’s Artistic Director Magdalene Minnaar, with musical direction by José Dias, the two-act play stars Sandra Prinsloo as Maria Callas and features well-known arias by Verdi, Puccini and Bellini. Prinsloo, in a purely acting role, will be joined by a stellar supporting Cape Town Opera cast including Soloist Brittany Smith together with CTO’s Judith Neilson Young Artists Alida Scheepers and Tylor Lamani as the aspiring opera singers mentored by Callas. Musical Director José Dias takes on a dual role as pianist and actor. Costume design is by Maritha Visagie and lighting design is by Magdalene Minnaar.
“Cape Town Opera is delighted to be presenting this superb piece of theatre,” says Magdalene Minnaar. “From having one of South Africa’s greatest actresses playing Callas to being back at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre during the100th anniversary of Callas’ birth is very special.”
Master Class is at Theatre on the Bay from 20 February to 11 March 2023, and thereafter moves to Pieter Toerien’s Theatre at Montecasino in Johannesburg from 15 March to 2 April 2023. Tickets cost from R180 to R280 via Webtickets. No under 13’s.