Sunday, September 13, 2015

Diva worthy Master Class

True greatness, the uncontested and monumental kind, is hard to come by. The Classic Theatre takes on Terrence McNally’s Master Class, now playing through October 4, and the unparalleled life of opera diva Maria Callas.

Anna Gangai as Maria Callas in The Classic Theatre's Master Class.
Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
McNally’s Callas is not only a raw version of the woman, but also a vessel by which to remind audiences the depth of emotion and sacrifice that envelops such iconic artists. It is their dedication and courage making a lasting impression of their careers, not just the performances and accomplishments. As Callas repeats over and over throughout the script, they give everything — yet, especially in today’s over-saturated limelight, truly great performers are too often taken for granted and left to compete with flash rather than substance.

The Classic Theatre production of Master Class exhibits exceptional talent rarely seen on San Antonio stages. Anna Gangai, once again, proves her own diva stature in her portrayal of the incomparable Maria Callas. Opening with a softer demeanor than expected, Gangai manages to endear audiences to an otherwise polarizing and intimidating legend. Every one of the vocalists in the cast were phenomenal singers with soaring voices much larger than the Classic’s space. Of course, the nature of the script brings the acting ability of singers under scrutiny and audience members can judge for themselves if they felt the expectation Callas lays out in the play is met. Amanda Golden as Sophie DePalma took Callas’ direction to heart, giving a much improved performance to culminate her time on stage. Jerry Cordova’s Tony Candolino seemed ingenuine, but made up for it with his moving vocality. Jacquelyn Matava provided a powerhouse voice to Sharon Graham, yet did not seem to reap as noticeable benefits of Callas’ criticism as the others. Regardless of the characters’ individual arcs, the singers each have amazing vocal talent and range, only accentuated by Josh Pepper’s accompaniment musical direction. Not to be forgotten, Pam Slocum was an appropriately dry stagehand, giving a short glimpse into the stark difference between the diva and the crew.

Diane Malone directed an unrivaled production with Master Class. Tim Francis’ lighting and Rick Malone's video designs were simple yet poignant, matching the bare stage set and allowing the performers and the music to take center stage. Rick Malone’s sound design blended perfectly with the live music, giving Gangai the ability to transport herself across time and space seamlessly.

What Master Class accomplishes above all, even more than depicting the life of Maria Callas, is reiterating the standard that must be met in order to rise to the level of greatness. Being memorable is not the same as being revered and fame doesn’t equal legend. Perhaps McNally is asking actors and audiences alike to demand a higher level of artistry and not settle for a nice voice, but reserve ovations for the most deserving. Master Class resurrects the ghosts of talents lost too soon and begs for a rededication to experiencing the magnified truth in art instead of investing in manufactured reality. After all, in order to elevate art, it is  necessary to be uncompromising, strive for perfection and often succumb to the exhausting addiction it feeds, just as Callas did and taught.

The Classic Theatre’s Master Class delivers the same high caliber performances it commands with an obscene amount of local talent. Master Class should not only leave audiences with an appreciation for opera and the career of Callas, but also a desire to experience excellence in art, especially local theatre. Let this production set the tone for this theatre season.

Master Class will run at the Classic Theatre through October 4, 2015 with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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