Terrence McNally's play Master Class shows the legendary opera diva Maria Callas as she puts young aspiring singers through their paces in a series of master classes. Both moving and entertaining, this play explores the Callas phenomenon conjuring the artist and her unique talent, while exploring the woman and her passionate heart.
Master Class - Original West End Production 1997
Previewed 18 April 1997, Opened 6 May 1997, Closed 28 June 1997 at the Queen's Theatre
The cast featured Patti LuPone as 'Maria Callas' with David Shrubsole as 'Emmanuel Weinstock', Sophia Wylie as 'Sophie De Palma', Susan Roper as 'Sharon Graham' and David Maxwell Anderson as 'Anthony Candolino' with Kenneth Hadley as 'a Stagehand'. Directed by Leonard Foglia with sets by Michael McGarty, costumes by Jane Greenwood ,lighting by Brian MacDevitt and sound by Nick Gilpin.
"I have to admit, I was dreading this show. For as long as I can remember I have been allergic to opera... Mercifully, you don't need to be an opera buff to enjoy Master Class. This is one of those evenings when a great star conquers all - or almost all - resistance. Patti LuPone turns in a performance that has standing ovation written all over it. She's a star playing a star, and from her magnificently haughty entrance she pulls out all the stops. She's imperious, funny, tragic, preposterous. She stalks the stage as if it were a kingdom over which she has despotic control. You can't take your eyes of her. I have, however, to admit to grave reservations about Terrence McNally's script, which seems soft-centres and worryingly full of cliches. McNally is a slick exponent of the familiar Broadway formula of sunnshine and showers, tears and smiles. Every joke has to be accompanied by a glimpse of heartbreak, every sorrow with another gag to cheer us up. His Callas is one part Dame Edna Everage, hilariously bullying her pupils at the master-classes held at the Juilliard School in 1971, and one part tragic icon, a genius torn apart by suffering. There may be much more than a grain of truth in this, but the writing is simplistic and reductive and full of wise little saws...But LuPone makes mechanical jokes seem funny, and shop-soiled anguish real. She scarcely sings a note (though there are recordings of the real Callas that sent shivers down even my opera-resistant spine), yet she convinces you are watching a great vocal artist. At the end, the audience rose spontaneously, just as they rose to Callas. The show offers the thrilling spectacle of an artist triumphing over her material and willing an audience into a state of submission." The Daily Telegraph
"Terrance McNally's Master Class, which arrives from Broadway equipped with a trio of awards, is cunningly got up to seduce audiences into the erroneous belief they are actually in the presence of high art and enjoying an intimate encounter with Maria Callas. But the great soprano, whose turbulent life was as much soap opera as operatic, emerges in McNally's invention as a haughty queen of the back-handed insult who talked cliches and lived them...McNally, however fanatical an admirer, proves uninterested in the diva as teacher. He does not even raise - let alone discuss - important questions about Callas's tempestuous career or tragic private life...Foglia's strindent production, full of pent-up caricature, at least permits Miss LuPone's Callas to resemble an unassailable battleship rather than the sinking vessel the great singer was." London Evening Standard
"Master Class, Terence McNally's homage to the greatest diva of them all, Maria Callas, is a star vehicle, no more, no less. With Patti LuPone at the wheel - fierce, fiery and occasionally phoney - it rumbles over the dramatic pot-holes without ever coming off the road. It's an enjoyable drive, but not a thrilling one. The play takes the shape of one of Callas's master classes at the Juillard School in New York, a platform on which she can parade her diva temperament (scornful, arrogant, vain, insecure - the usual cocktail) while elucidating her approach: a courageous - some called it reckless - willingness to sacrifice her singing technique for the sake of dramatic interpretation... The student's choice of arias trigger flashbacks during which Callas recalls moments of glory when she hurled notes like thunderbolts - and her later humiliations, both professional and personal. Her relationship with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis is juxtaposed with a passage from Verdi's opera of Macbeth. While a student soprano sings of Lady Macbeth's murderous intent, Callas submits to an instruction from Onassis that she abort their child. More soapy melodrama than searing tragedy, the scene doesn't begin to touch the operatic tragedy of Callas's life. I remained wholly unmoved." The Mail on Sunday
Master Class in London at the Queen's Theatre previewed from 18 April 1997, opened on 6 May 1997 and closed on 28 June 1997
Master Class - 1st West End Revival 2012
Previewed 21 January 2012, Opened 7 February 2012, Closed 28 April 2012 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London
The cast for Master Class in London features Tyne Daly as 'Maria Callas' with Dianne Pilkington as 'Sophie De Palma', Naomi O'Connell as 'Sharon Graham', Garrett Sorenson as 'Anthony Candolino', Jeremy Cohen as 'Emmanuel Weinstock' and Gerard Carey as 'a Stagehand'. Directed by Stephen Wadsworth with sets by Thomas Lynch, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, lighting by David Lander and sound by Jon Gottlieb.
"By  time Maria Callas had stopped singing to shack up with Aristotle Onassis, only to be dumped for Jackie Kennedy. In McNally's imagined version, written in the 1990s and revived in this pitch-perfect transfer from Broadway, she makes up for the humiliation by basking in the adoration of her students and skewering those rash enough to try to sing for her... The piece is essentially a star vehicle for Tyne Daly, whose magnificent performance will be a revelation to anyone who just knows her from the TV cop series Cagney & Lacey and she bears a surprising resemblance to the ageing diva... A two-anda-half-hour play set in real time during a singing class may not sound riveting but this is truly enthralling." The Daily Express
"Tyne Daly is not an obvious casting choice for that diva of all divas, Maria Callas, who died aged 53. But here she is, in a black silk trouser suit and extravagant Cleopatra make-up, taking Terrence McNally's Master Class, a rather ho-hum 1995 homage to the great Greek soprano, to new heights. As Callas herself insists, it's all about projection... This performance doesn't simply get beneath the shiny surface of the diva, revealing an extraordinary talent for interpreting and dramatising the music, but beneath fame and celebrity in general... The play invites us to be the audience of one of the public master classes Callas gave aspiring opera singers in the Seventies. The sessions with her 'victims' are a rather clunky dramatic excuse for Callas to revisit some of her greatest professional moments at La Scala or Covent Garden... Still, it's effective enough. 'This isn't about me. I'm invisible,' she says time and time again, never failing to bring the focus back to herself as she nearly scares to death the goofy Sophie, spirited Sharon or tubby tenor Tony; gifted singers, all of them. Master Class has a cast of six but it's a one-woman show, just as Callas was. Daly barely sings a note but she is pitch-perfect throughout." The Mail on Sunday
"Terrence McNally's Broadway drama tours the legend, using the 1971 masterclasses Maria Callas gave at Juilliard, in New York. His script is at its best during the coaching scenes, where Callas keeps students in a nicely simmering state of terror, and weaves in catty put-downs nd overwrought flashbacks. In Stephen Wadsworth's handsome production, Tyne Daly's Callas is a splendid, monumental non-impersonation. With her hooded gaze etched in eyeliner, her staccato bark and ominous gravity, Daly suggests a woman who made art both her fortress and her prison." The Sunday Times
Masterclass in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 21 January 2012, opened on 7 February 2012 and closed on 28 April 2012.