English Theatre Frankfurt
Thursday 21 March 2013
A play by Terence McNally, directed by Hannah Chissick
I haven’t been to the theatre for ages, which is sad. I apologise to myself and to you, and I’m making up for it by recommending this masterpiece of a play. Currently the English Theatre is staging Master Class, a play about (and also kind of with) Maria Callas, the grande dame in the world of opera. Based on the real event of Callas giving classes at the Juillard School in New York, this play focuses on these sessions, their musical content, but also on Callas reminiscing about her life and her career.
Master Class is not a class only for singers, though it may seem like that at the beginning. The stage contains nothing but a piano, a small table and a stool: we are IN the auditorium at Juillard, we are witnesses of this reconstructed event. Callas (authentically and expressively played by a brilliant Karen Mann) gives advice to young opera singers (portrayed by Jennifer Rhodes, Robine Landi, Ciarán O’Leary). On a musical level of course, but also on a very personal one. The diva, obviously struggling with her past, criticises and praises, jokes and laughs, cries and despairs. But at the end of the day, her wisdom and life experience saves each and everyone of us – both the audience and the students on stage.
The big plus in this production are the three levels on which it operates. First, we have the biographic level – Maria Callas, la Divina, and her moving past are musically illustrated with her recordings and conveyed by sublime monologues. Secondly there is the musical, operatic level. It delivers the daily routine of an opera student, shows how the business works and reconstructs the master classes of a world star. And then, finally there’s the third level, which speaks to every person in the room. It concerns the real world and can be understood when Callas talks about fame, ambition and achievement. It’s basically a lesson for life, as lines like these just seem to be applicable in various moments:
“If I would worry about what the audience thinks of me, I could never win!”
“What matters is that everything you have learned you use wisely”
What I loved, by the way, was the importance of music. There was music everywhere – either sung live by the students or heard from a record during the monologues by Puccini, Verdi and Bellini, but also, music was a consistent factor throughout Callas’s lecture. Isn’t it a good thing to hope, ‘that [through music] we made the world a better place, made it richer, wiser”? (Also, I do believe that “art is beauty, and you should be paid for it!”)
Go there. See it. Be inspired.
Master Class will be performed until 28 April 2013. Get tickets here!