About The Show

The Basics

Inspired by world-renowned Opera diva Maria Callas’ magnificent Juilliard master class series, Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play spotlights the tour-de-force artist and vulnerable woman known as La Divina. Join Callas as she relentlessly coaxes, prods, and edifies her young students, motivating them to give the performances of their lives, while revealing her humor, her demons and her genius.

The opera diva Maria Callas, a glamorous, commanding, larger-than-life, caustic, and surprisingly funny pedagogue is holding a singing master class. Alternately dismayed and impressed by the students who parade before her, she retreats into recollections about the glories of her own life and career. Included in her musings are her younger years as an ugly duckling, her fierce hatred of her rivals, the unforgiving press that savaged her early performances, her triumphs at La Scala, and her relationship with Aristotle Onassis, culminating in a monologue about sacrifice taken in the name of art.

Master Class is presented as a staged reading in two acts with one intermission.
The performance lasts approximately two and a half hours.
Please note this show contains adult language and themes.

The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited.


WARNING: This synopsis of the play contains spoilers.

Act I

Maria Callas is teaching a master class in front of an audience: us. She’s glamorous, commanding, larger than life — and drop-dead funny. Callas’ first “victim” is Sophie, a ridiculous, overly perky soprano. 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 — and now what has started out as a class becomes a platform for Callas. She glories in her own career, dabbles in opera dish, and flat-out seduces the audience. But with that, there are plenty of laughs going on, especially between Callas and the audience.

Callas sang Amina in La sonnambula for the first time at La Scala, Milan on March 5th, 1955, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and directed by Luchino Visconti. She would perform the role 22 times during her career up to August 1957 at the Edinburgh Festival. (Source: Maria Callas on Facebook)

Act II

The next two sessions repeat the same dynamic: 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 — the young singer has talent, but Callas tells her to stick to flimsy roles. Sharon is devastated and rushes out of the hall, and Callas brings the class to a close by acknowledging the sacrifices we must make in the name of art.

Source: Dramatists Play Service
When La Scala announced that Maria would be given the honor of opening its 1952-53 season as the leading lady in MACBETH, expectations ran high. Things did not turn out smoothly as there were controversies and disturbances. The opinion of the critics were divided as some were unable to understand her interpretation. Moreover, a member of the pro-Tebaldi claque pre-arranged a whistle that was blown after the sleepwalking scene to disrupt the performance. However, by and large majority of the Milan public were conquered by Maria’s Lady Macbeth and the disturbance only led to even more overwhelming ovation and seven solo curtain calls for her. (Source: Callasiana Ultra)

Maria Callas

Maria Callas in 1958(Photo: Wikipedia)

Maria Callas (born Maria Anna Cecilia Sophie Kalogeropoulos; December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) was an American-born Greek soprano who was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Many critics praised her bel canto technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. Her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini and, further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina ("the Divine one").

Born in Manhattan, New York City, to Greek immigrant parents, she was raised by an overbearing mother who had wanted a son. Maria received her musical education in Greece at age 13 and later established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of 1940s wartime poverty and with near-sightedness that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She notably underwent a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career.

The press exulted in publicizing Callas's temperamental behavior, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Although her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her "the Bible of opera" and her influence so enduring that, in 2006, Opera News wrote of her: "Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music's best-selling vocalists."


Source: Wikipedia

The Music

"Ah! non credea mirarti" from Bellini's La sonnambula (1831)

The Opera
La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) is a two-act opera semiseria by Vincenzo Bellini, with an Italian libretto by Felice Romani. It premiered at the Teatro Carcano in Milan on March 6th, 1831. The opera tells the story of Amina, a young woman who is about to marry her sweetheart, Elvino. However, on the night of their wedding, Amina is discovered asleep in the bedroom of a stranger, Count Rodolfo. Elvino is convinced that Amina is unfaithful, and he breaks off their engagement. In the second act, Amina's friends and family try to convince Elvino of her innocence. They explain that she is a sleepwalker, and that she had no control over her actions on the night of the wedding. Elvino eventually believes them, and he and Amina are reunited. La sonnambula is a classic opera that explores themes of love, forgiveness, and redemption.

The Aria
"Ah! non credea mirarti" is one of the most famous and beloved arias in all of opera. It is sung by the soprano Amina in the second act where Amina has just sleepwalked into the bedroom of Count Rodolfo, and she has been discovered by her fiancé, Elvino. Elvino is convinced that Amina is unfaithful, and he has broken off their engagement. Amina expresses her grief and despair at losing him. She sings about how she never could have imagined that their love would end so soon. She also sings about her love for Elvino, and her hope that he will one day forgive her. The aria is a powerful and moving expression of Amina's emotions. It is also a testament to Bellini's skill as a composer, and his ability to create music that is both beautiful and dramatic. The aria has been performed by some of the greatest sopranos of all time, including Maria Callas.

"Recondita armonia" from Puccini's Tosca (1900)

The Opera
Tosca is a three-act opera by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on January 14th, 1900. The opera tells the story of Floria Tosca, a famous opera singer, her lover Mario Cavaradossi, a painter, and Baron Scarpia, the sadistic chief of police. Scarpia is obsessed with Tosca, and he is determined to possess her. He uses his power and authority to blackmail and torture Cavaradossi into revealing the whereabouts of an escaped political prisoner. Tosca is torn between her love for Cavaradossi and her fear of Scarpia. She eventually agrees to Scarpia's demands in order to save her lover's life. However, after Scarpia gives Cavaradossi a fake execution, Tosca kills Scarpia and then commits suicide by jumping from the Castel Sant'Angelo. Tosca is a tragic opera that explores themes of love, jealousy, betrayal, and sacrifice; it is also a powerful indictment of political oppression and the abuse of power.

The Aria
Puccini wrote some of the most beautiful melodies in all of opera, and "Recondita armonia" is one of his finest examples. The aria is sung by Cavaradossi in the first act, and it reveals his inner thoughts and feelings about his love for Tosca, as well as foreshadows the tragic events that are to come. He is an artist, and he is constantly searching for beauty in the world; in "Recondita armonia," he finds beauty in the contrast between Tosca's dark hair and black eyes and the blonde hair and blue eyes of the woman he is painting. The aria also reveals Cavaradossi's deep love for Tosca and his appreciation for her unique beauty.

"Vienti! t'affretta!" from Verdi's Macbeth (1847)

The Opera
Macbeth is a four-act opera by Giuseppe Verdi, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It premiered at the Teatro alla Pergola in Florence on March 14th, 1847. The opera is based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare, and it tells the story of Macbeth, a Scottish general who is goaded by his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder King Duncan and seize the throne for himself. Macbeth is eventually consumed by guilt and paranoia, and he is killed by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who is seeking revenge for the death of his family. Macbeth is a dark and tragic opera that explores themes of ambition, guilt, paranoia, and redemption. It is also a powerful indictment of the corrupting influence of power.

The Aria
"Vienti! t'affretta!" ("Come! Hurry!") is a powerful and dramatic piece of music and is one of the finest examples of Verdi's strength in writing music that conveys strong emotions. It is sung by Lady Macbeth in the first act and reveals her inner thoughts and feelings about her ambition for her husband, Macbeth, as well as foreshadows the tragic events that are to come. Driven by her ambition for her husband, she expresses her excitement and anticipation for Macbeth to become king. She also reveals her willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal. She is a woman who knows what she wants and who is not afraid to go after it.