Sunday, 23 December 2001

Masterclass, Dec 23, 2001

By Terrence McNally 
At The Playhouse, Dec 23 2001 to Jan 20, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

For a second opening night in two years, Amanda Muggleton propelled a Melbourne audience to its feet in applause.

Muggleton reprises her role as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's play, Masterclass, directed stylishly by Rodney Fisher. The play is based on Callas's master vocal classes at the Julliard School in New York during 1971 and 1972 after her own voice deteriorated irrevocably.

Although there is no physical resemblance between actor and diva, Muggleton inhabits Callas's character totally. She feels the role - from the inside, just as Callas vehemently encourages her students to do. Callas's presence in the room is palpable.

The arrogant, domineering, conceited prima donna says, "Art is domination.....Art is collaboration." Muggleton takes her alter-ego's advice and dominates the audience and her fellow cast members while collaborating impeccably with them in this exceptional performance.

As she perches on a stool, banters with the pianist, (Tyrone Landau) or sweeps around the stage, she recaptures Callas's "Look": her style, her elegant demeanour, every statuesque gesture, harsh word and icy gaze.

McNally, using much of Callas's own words from the master classes, recreates her tactless and brutally honest criticism of her victims' appearance, dress, attitude and voice.

The beauty of the play is that McNally does not try to recreate Callas's voice on stage. It would be impossible. She had, Callas says, no rivals. 

Recordings of her singing La Somnambula and Verdi's Lady Macbeth, are Muggleton's vehicle to transport us into Callas's mind-body memory of being La Divina.

Fisher closes the space down with dramatic lighting designed by David Walters, A single spotlight frames Muggleton's face as Callas. In impassioned monologue, she reminisces about her violently passionate affair with the philistine, Onassis, her early career, her marriage to Meneghini and her craving for a child, her disappointments.

She stands against a muted and romantic backdrop of La Scala created by elaborate slides.  We are transported to the opera theatre.

Verdi's music and Callas's voice seem to penetrate Muggleton's body and pump through her in a pulse of emotion.

Muggleton is delightfully supported by three young singer-actors. Melissa Madden Gray is the twitchy ingenue, Sophie. Marc Cinque plays the perky, Brooklyn tenor, Tony. 

Natasha Hunter with her rich soprano, makes a feisty Sharon. A slouching stagehand is hilariously underplayed by Greg Ulfan. 

"Never miss an opportunity to theatricalise", says Callas. Muggleton plays this teasing, histrionic, rude sarcastic competitive creature of the opera with great aplomb and consummate technique.

By Kate Herbert

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