Thursday, 19 January 2012

Master Class Review

Terrence McNally’s Master Class, the play portraying Maria Callas, the real life opera singer, is back in the West End. Callas’ short career has come to an end. However, still as egocentric as ever, here she is delivering classes to young opera singers, to keep up contact with her adoring admirers.

Providing (like us) you are not a Callas uber-specialist, the show will confirm every preconception you already had of the prima donna star: bitchy and brusque, with some killer withering looks. However, Daly’s Callas is sharp and funny in spite of herself.  She claims on stage, to the audience at large: ‘See? I do have wit.’  Indeed she does. Parts of the show were roaringly funny, and it was Daly, who rightfully steals the show, who made us laugh every time.

This was an impressive achievement, for Nally’s script itself is predictable yet unconvincing. The three singer students have three totally predictable reactions to Callas’ harsh, egocentric teaching method: fawning, arrogant and resistive, yet all three are far too thick for belief. The transitions from present master class to Callas’ internal flashback are clumsily written, and connection between the two timelines is sparse.

Lovers of Callas will probably find McNally’s portrayal one dimensional and exaggerated, but herein lies most of the play’s humour. If characters are typically caricatured, Daly rises out of Callas’ own diva type, to create a performance entertaining in its narcissism. It is not an authorised biography, neither does it pretend to be, but we get the impression, if Callas is anything like Daly’s character on stage, this is the way she would have wanted it.