See review in its original context here by Cameron Woodhead for The Age.
A masterful tribute to La Divina Maria Callas
The fiery Maria Callas – La Divina to her fans – was the ultimate diva as artist. She had a voice that will live forever, and a legend amplified by the essentially tragic arc of her life.
Moving from the privations of wartime Greece (Callas performed Fidelio for the Nazis) to the heights of La Scala, Callas devoted herself ferociously to her art. The press made hay with her unforgiving temperament, her personal and professional rivalries, her love affair with Aristotle Onassis and the radical mid-career weight loss that transformed her into a svelte beauty.
The last may have contributed to the early decline of Callas’s voice, and Terrence McNally’s Master Class imagines her visit to the Juilliard School of Music in 1971, after her career had ended prematurely.
Maria Mercedes plays Callas, holding court to an audience of budding opera singers. It’s an awe-inspiring performance by any measure.
Mercedes resurrects the diva in all her thrilling, indomitable charisma, as totalising and majestic a figure as the arias she made her own. We get Callas’ biting observation and ironic commentary on her life, swelling into tragic, trance-like states of relived glory and trauma.
We get Callas’ uncompromising philosophy of art: on the embodiment of drama in operatic music, the remorseless demands of art on the artist, the almost sacrificial nature of the greatest performance.
The delicious comedy that surrounds the three young opera singers she monsters – Georgia Wilkinson, Robert Barbaro, Anna Louise Cole – swells into the sublime when they sing to Callas’ satisfaction (and ours) from Tosca and Macbeth.
Daniel Lammin’s production of Master Class will delight opera and theatre lovers alike, and audiences will long cherish the memory of Mercedes’ marvellous performance.