In his ode to opera singer Maria Callas and the tutelage she gave at Juilliard toward the end of her career, Terrence McNally’s Master Class (★★★) is certainly fascinating. Delivered almost in monologue, Callas veers between ruthless dissections of her three opera students, reflections on the art form, and deep reveries on her personal and professional life.
Whether it accurately reflects the real Callas is debatable: those who have heard the recordings of her master classes say not. However, if taken as impressions of a life and as a contemplation of not just opera, but all kinds of human endeavor, it is uniquely thoughtful.
Needless to say, the lead requires not just stamina but a strongly credible presence. In Metro Stage’s production, Ilona Dulaski creates a memorably feisty Callas as she holds forth in class and in her reveries. To her credit, it does not feel at all like an impersonation. She is less convincing in her recreations of Aristotle Onassis’ bullying — her submissive Callas somehow doesn’t quite jibe with the woman who could survive being booed at the Met. But this is quibbling. Overall, Dulaski paints her memorably big and bold.
Of the three young students, a charismatic, if slightly wooden, Daniel Noone sings Tenor Tony with attractive gusto and some pleasing high notes. Ayana Reed is convincing as Second Soprano Sharon, who nearly bottles out of performing. She sings with exciting promise and attractively urgent expression.
Emily Honzel gives her First Soprano Sophie an array of charming expressions as she struggles to interpret the music, and sings with precision and sweetness. Delivering a bit of deadpan is a nicely understated Michael Sharp as Stagehand, while Joseph Walsh brings warmth (and skill) to Manny, the Accompanist.
This is an intimate, evocative portrait of a still somewhat mysterious star of another age. Seeing it in the intimacy of the Metro Stage is an engaging treat.
Master Class runs to June 11 at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal St., Alexandria. Tickets are $55 to $60. Call 800-494-8497 or visit metrostage.org.
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