There are singers, and then there are performers, people who envelope themselves in the role and are able to convey emotions through song that someone just singing the notes is incapable of. Maria Callas, the famed Opera Singer of the 40’s and 50’s was a true performer. She was known for her fierce ability to throw herself into many of the great female opera roles, as well as a personality to go with that capability. Callas lost her voice after a short career due to her reckless carelessness with her voice. She spent the short remaining years of her life teaching classes to opera students at refined schools such as Julliard. Hard headed, wounded and a genius in her own right she is a fascinating character to observe.
And observe we get to, in Terrance McNally’s Master Class now playing at ICT in Long Beach. You are treated to what it would be like sitting in an auditorium as a student at Julliard watching Callas help tutor opera students. Gigi Bermingham plays Callas to her best ability, trying to capture that star power that shot Callas to stardom, as well as her wounded bird interior. Thoroughly entwined in herself, Callas cannot make it through one student’s song without remembering her own rendition of the piece or claiming that the student will never be one of the greats, never leaving her own name off of the noteworthy list.
Todd Nielson’s production is slow at times, with Bermingham often pacing back and forth, and at times even leaving the stage at will, trying to get across the difficult behavior that made working with Callas such a bear. However the entire thing is an interesting character study. It is like watching a fascinating wild animal in a strange environment. Callas was not used to teaching, to letting others perform, she could not let go of her own memories and desires.
The cast is exceptionally talented, the three opera students have beautiful voices, yet the repetitiveness of the singing that comes with a classroom environment does get a little boring. Though the portrayal of Callas is fascinating, it does leave a little to be desired, Bermingham fights to possess the presence Callas was known for, but comes up shy. If you are adverse to Opera singing, there is a lot of it, so perhaps this is not for you. However, if you, like me, are fascinated with taking a look into the life of a genius you may never have known had existed, then head down to Long Beach to take a Master Class with one of the greats.