Rosarito Theatre Guild Produces Another Winner

Bringing us a serious play in a serious effort by talented semi pros
BY: TOM EMANUEL

Terrence McNally, author of the Tony award winning author of the play Master Class, never thought this play would go anywhere. He wrote it as a pocket play meaning that a small group of true aficionados would be the only ones interested in the subject. He estimated that only about 5,000 people who loved opera would ever see it. He could not have been more wrong.

McNally was a devotee of Maria Callas and was fascinated by her dramatic personality, her worldwide acclaim, and, of course, her combustible relationship with the richest man in the world in his time, Aristotle Onassis. McNally’s play begins long after that relationship has expired and explores the real world of opera, displaying not only its passion and glory, but also its nasty underside, its backbiting rants, and its ugly melodrama.

Maria Callas never wanted to be an opera star. That was her mother’s dream for her.  She was an over-weight and rather ugly child with a fabulous voice. Her mother, who wanted a career in the arts for herself but did not have the talent, discovered that Maria had a voice when she was only three. From then on her mother was relentless in pushing Maria to sing and advance in a career which she hated.

Her parents had moved to New York from Greece in July of 1923 and Maria was born on December 2 that same year. In 1937 her mother, whose rocky marriage was finally over, moved with her two daughters back to Greece. Maria was 14 and sent to Italy to pursue her career in opera. At 18 she was forced to sing for the Nazis in order to make money in those uncertain perilous times in the early part of WWII.

 Her impact on the world of opera was epic. Before her, opera was rather staid and consisted of stock gestures, cool and artless use of the voice. Maria Callas brought passion to the art with an unprecedented display of the emotions connected to the lyrics. This was electrifying and opera lovers have demanded it from divas the world over ever since. Her career was actually rather short as she  ruined her voice in only about 15 years of constant work. She had a huge vocal range of just under three octaves.

At the time of this play, her voice is gone and Onassis has died. Callas taught classes. Terrence McNally uses the stage vehicle to write a stream of consciousness retrospective on her career, her marriage to her husband Giovanni Meneghini, her long term affair with Onassis, and the entire operatic universe of her time. She has selected 25 students out of 300 applicants . In these classes she displays the full range of human treatment from the absurdly cossetting to the vicious diatribe to an amazing sense of humor.  McNally makes us realize that Callas never did any internal work on herself and has dragged her demons with her throughout her life. These emotions have been the drivers of her career and all her personal relationships, which were often quite stormy.

Amy Chankin gives us an absolutely marvelous performance as the diva. Prior to this she had a wonderful career on stage, playing leading roles in Cabaret, Stop The World I Want To Get Off, God of Carnage, and Death Trap. There are few actresses who could pull off such a demanding part, but Amy takes us straight into the fascinating world of the diva in a seemingly effortless performance.  She will be acclaimed for her efforts here and celebrated at least regionally.

Carol Clary has had a great musical career as a professional singer, a professor, and as a voice coach. She claims that she can teach anyone to sing, even this reporter. She says she must stretch to pull off her role as one of the sopranos, but she has the acting talent to do so. Her character feels she is there to study celebrity, the dynamics of opera, and the method acting associated with the art.

Susan Lidstrom brings us Sophy who is rather innocent and naïve. She is in over her head but is nevertheless going to persist and displays a tough spirit which will not be beaten down by Callas. She is there to get the most of out of this opportunity. Susan herself has had a long career in music having sung with a choir in Minneapolis for over 15 years.

The tenor is played by Daniel Kurek, who has actually had a long career with the Phoenix opera and is the owner of a pizza restaurant in that same city. He brings a true Italian flavor to his role.

The director of this play is Steve Wayles, another professional with a long career in music and the theatre arts. He is a joy to work with according to all who know him but at the same time he expects, and gets, the best performance they can give from his players.

The indomitable Sylvia Dombrosky is the producer of Master Class, as she has been on many other plays at the Rosarito Theatre Guild.

Master Class is one of the best plays ever put on by the Rosarito Theatre Guild, they have really stretched themselves here. You must see it. Performances are at 7 P.M. on June 25, 26, and 27 and the matinee is at 2 P.M. on June 28th. For tickets, (only $15), and reservations visit www.rosaritotheatre.org or call 664-609-3451.