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Master Class

Master Class
Your Price: $18.95 CDN
Author: Terrence McNally
Publisher: Dramatists Play Service (cover may change)
Format: Softcover
# of Pages: 51
Pub. Date: 1996
ISBN-10: 0822215217
ISBN-13: 9780822215219
Cast Size: 3 female, 3 male

About the Play:

Winner of the 1996 Tony Award for Best Play

Master Class is a full-length drama by Terrence McNally. Pyrotechnical theater – fireworks in a contained space where Maria Callas is brought back to life in Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play. Inspired by the legendary series of master classes given by opera diva Maria Callas at Juilliard toward the end of her career. The play puts Maria Callas at center stage again as she coaxes, prods, and inspires students – "victims" as she calls them – into giving the performances of their lives while revealing the disappointments in her own life and her relationship with the shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

Master Class is considered a masterpiece of 20th century theater. Maria Callas is teaching a master class in front of an audience (us). She's glamorous, commanding, larger than life – and drop-dead funny. An accompanist sits at the piano. Callas' first "victim" is Sophie, a ridiculous, overly-perky soprano, dressed all in pink. Sophie chooses to sing one of the most difficult arias, the sleepwalking scene from La Sonnambula – an aria that Callas made famous. Before the girl sings a note, Callas stops her – she clearly can't stand hearing music massacred. And now what has started out as a class has become a platform for Callas. She glories in her own career, dabbles in opera dish and flat-out seduces the audience. Callas gets on her knees and acts the entire aria in dumb show, eventually reducing the poor singer to tears. But with that there are plenty of laughs going on, especially between Callas and the audience. Callas pulls back and gives Sophie a chance to use what she's learnt. As soon as Sophie starts singing, though, Callas mentally leaves the room and goes into a sprawling interior monologue about her own performance of that aria and the thunderous applause she received at La Scala. Callas wakes up and sends Sophie off with a pat. The next two sessions repeat the same dynamic, only the middle session is with a tenor who moves Callas to tears. She again enters her memories, and we learn about Callas' affair with Aristotle Onassis; an abortion she was forced to have; her first elderly husband whom she left; her early days as an ugly duckling; the fierce hatred of her rivals; and the unforgiving press that savaged her at first. Finally, we meet Sharon, another soprano, who arrives in a full ball gown. With Sharon singing, Callas is genuinely moved, for the young singer has talent, but Callas tells her to stick to flimsy roles. Sharon is devastated and spits back every nasty thing you've ever heard about Callas: She's old, washed up; she ruined her voice too early in her career; she only wants people to worship her, etc. Sharon rushes out of the hall, and Callas brings the class to a close with a beautiful speech about the sacrifices we must make in the name of art.

Master Class premiered in 1985 at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, and then at the Mark Taper Forum and the Kennedy Center. It opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in 1995. The play was revived on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in 2011, and transferred to the West End of London at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2012, enjoyed widespread acceptance among leading regional theatres, and has become a popular choice for regional, college, and community theatre productions.

Cast: 3 female, 3 male

What people say:

"For Mr. McNally, the play demonstrates his ability to create rich, vivid, satisfying theater… Master Class is an unembarrassed, involving meditation on Callas' life and the nature of her art. Such subjects are not easily dramatized, certainly not with this brio." — New York Times

"Terrence McNally's new play Master Class… will be talked about for years to come whenever people point to theater experiences that genuinely deserve to be labeled by the overused word 'great'." — The Hollywood Reporter

"It is Terrence McNally's total triumph in his Master Class… This is a night to remember." — New York Post

"Get a ticket: Master Class is mesmerizing theater." — Star-Ledger

"McNally's love letter to Callas … succeeds brilliantly." — Los Angeles Times

"His best script so far — sparkling, rich and mercurial." — Wall Street Journal

"A play of notable wit, humanity and insight … captures the transcendent experience. … You share, for a moment, in the making of art." — Philadelphia Inquirer

"Funny and moving. … An homage to teaching as well as to Maria Callas, Terrence McNally's beautiful new play is set at Juilliard during one of La Divina' famous master classes." — Variety

"Howlingly funny and uncommonly perceptive about the irrational entertainment we call opera. … Resounds with the ring of truth." — San Francisco Examiner

About the Playwright:

Terrence McNally (1938-2020) was an American playwright whose career has spanned six decades. Initially active in the burgeoning Off-Broadway theatre movement in the 1960s, he is one of the few playwrights of his generation to have successfully made the transition to Broadway, and, in the process, passed from avant-garde to mainstream acclaim. In addition to four Tony Awards for his plays, he received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller grant, and was a recipient of the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Tony Awards' Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Honor. He is considered one of America's great playwrights.

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