Thursday, 21 January 1999

Masterclass, Jan 5, 1999

By Terence McNally
At The Playhouse, Jan 5 to Jan 30, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A Melbourne audience being propelled spontaneously and simultaneously to its feet in applause is very, very rare. It demands a breathtaking and masterly performance. Amanda Muggleton, as Maria Callas in Masterclass, fits the bill.

There are moments in Rodney Fisher's stylish production of Terence McNally's elegantly structured play, when Muggleton plumbs Callas' depths of passion and despair and tears splash not only from her eyes.

She stands, isolated, in a narrow spotlight, transported from the opera master class she teaches at the Juilliard School, New York. The tragedy of the woman, the passion of her commitment, the crimson velvet beauty of her voice, transport us, in turn, to La Scala.

This is a peak experience. To be inside the mind of Callas as we hear her dramatic, disturbing voice, takes us to the brink of despair and ecstasy.

In tandem with such beauty and awe, we encounter the bestiality of her lover, Aristotle Onassis, who treated her cruelly. McNally skillfully interweaves the interior and exterior worlds of Callas.

"Poof! I am invisible," quips Muggleton as Callas as the first of her "victims" begins to sing. Double doors swing open dramatically. She sweeps in majestically, music clutched to her chest, black spectacles, head tossed back as if about to sing Lady Macbeth. Callas was never invisible.

Muggleton captures her vanity and insecurity, commitment to teaching, passion for character and her craving to be, once more, the diva. When her voice began to fail in 1959, after a stellar, if controversial, career as diva at La Scala, her confidence was shattered.

In masterclasses, she could risk occasional vocal glimpses of the old Callas before a doting audience, often as large as a thousand.

Muggleton is supported by a fine cast. An unassuming musical accompanist, (Andrew Ross) three singers, (Natasha Hunter, Toni Powell, Domenico Canizzaro) and a stagehand (Laurence Coy)

Callas ached with the need for love and recognition. She may have talked about technique, about meaning, diction and feeling, but her talent was driven by her intense emotional need, her need to be the best, to overcome the "fat girl" image, the rivalry with her pretty sister and other divas.

 "Ho dato tutto at te," she sings. "I gave everything to you." To Onassis, to music, to composers, students and audience  Muggleton also gives everything. It is a consummate performance of a very difficult role.

K Herbert

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