Review / Muggleton’s ‘larger-than-life’ role in ‘Masterclass’

“Masterclass”, the Playhouse, until Saturday, February 24. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

Amanda Muggleton plays Maria Callas. Photo by Kate Ferguson.

IT was a case of “diva meets diva” on Thursday night (February 22) at the Playhouse when Amanda Muggleton stepped on stage to play the role of Maria Callas in the first show for the Canberra Theatre Centre’s season.

Perfectly chosen by Canberra-raised London director Adam Spreadbury-Maher for what he calls his “immersive theatre” version of McNally’s sophisticated play, Muggleton is no lookalike for the great Greek-American soprano known as La Divina, but she immerses herself completely in this larger-than-life role.

Grand, bitchy, generous and pathetically vulnerable, McNally’s Callas is a wonderful role for a performer who has endeared herself to the Australian public with her unique capacity to interact with audiences. Anyone who seriously loves fine acting should head straight for the Playhouse to catch this performance before Saturday.

Radically different from an earlier staging by director Rodney Fisher, in which Muggleton also starred, this version of “Masterclass” sees a talented group of genuine singers – sopranos Jessica Boyd and Karla Gare and tenor Tomas Dalton – emerge from the audience to become the students in a Juilliard School masterclass of the kind Callas gave in New York in her later years.

Two of the three are terrified of La Divina, but one of them turns her imperious style of teaching back on her. Faithful to their roles, the three singers did not drop their personae until after the show, convincing those around them that they really were Juilliard School students.

Spreadbury-Maher’s “immersive” gambit paid off and in a curtain call Muggleton told the audience this was the first time they had tried it in a real theatre, as opposed to a studio.

During the course of the play, I had the opportunity to hear the wonderful voices of the young artists, as well as crackly recordings of Callas at her greatest, sometimes with photographic images of her most famous roles.

Throughout the play, the veteran musical director Dobbs Franks, a real life graduate of the Juilliard School, played Callas’ accompanist Manny Weinstock as an unobtrusive, subtle presence, in complete contrast to the histrionics of the central character.

But of course people had come to see Muggleton as Callas and were not disappointed.

Despite the character’s disingenuous claim (to much laughter) that it wasn’t about her and that applause was unnecessary, this masterclass was essentially a star turn, full of high drama.

Ferociously as she gave glimpses of her interpretation of Medea and Lady Macbeth, Muggleton also revealed parallels with the appalling story of her long relationship with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who, as the audience discovered, forced her into an abortion.

Onassis may have made her into something of a jet set superstar, but in the end this play makes it abundantly clear that it was the hard-working, fastidious and single-minded New York voice student, Cecilia Sophia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos, who created La Divina all by herself.




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