‘Master Class’ sweeps the gamut of emotions

‘Master Class’ sweeps the gamut of emotions
Image: Image supplied. Credit: Prudence Upton

Terrance McNally’s 1995 play Master Class, currently at the Ensemble, is a fictional account of opera singer Maria Callas, near the end of her life in the 1970s, running three students through their opera chops.

As the students struggle with snippets of Verdi, Puccini and Bellini, they are also shocked by the diva’s approach to the exercises.

Making the space her own as she parades the stage, Callas (Lucia Mastrantone) finally settles on a chair, but it has no stool for her diminutive stature.

Off to her left is the pianist (Maria Alfonsine) who peers unemotionally from her perch behind the piano, as her attempts to play the arias are constantly interrupted.

One by one the hapless students are brought in, with each of them being subjected to the sounding board of life as Callas recollects her fears, failures and triumphs, the cruel press who hounded her early career, and most of all, Aristotle Onassis.

In the wings playing alternatively a factotum and supplying the cello based score to Master Class is Damian De Boos-Smith.

McNally’s text sweeps the gamut of emotions from bitterness and resignation to uproariously funny with plenty of shade and light so we see a woman who is near the end fo her life, though she does not know this, reflect on the isolation that extreme fame often brings.

Maria Alfonsine, Elisa Colla and Lucia Mastrantone in ‘Master Class’. Image supplied, photo credit: Prudence Upton

An exceptionally told tale

Director Liesel Badorrek keeps the pace in this wordy play tight and allows for the cast to shine alongside Mastrantone’s Callas, though vocal projection could be dialled up in places.

Mastrantone is a commanding presence on stage, which she controls along with the students who she is about to destroy.

All of the students, Elisa Colla, Matthew Reardon and Bridget Patterson are excellent as they struggle to display their obvious talents to Callas.

De-Boos and Alfonsine are both exceptional musicians and often work together outside of this production.

Multi- Sydney Theatre award winner set and costume designer Isabel Hudson has kept both elements simple and clean, with the stage containing only a piano and a chair, while Mastrantone’s outfit of a silk shirt matched with box trousers make for a classy appearance, as does Elisa Colla’s striking red dress.

Lighting from Kelsey Lee is a star in its own right and serves the production well, with the subtle use of the red neon strip backdrop and the use of spots to emphasise characters.

For some there may be a reluctance to attend a show that purports to be steeped in classical opera, but that component is minimal as it is the story of a once great achiever reflecting on her past and her failure to control it while being confronted by the future of her students.

Master Class is a class act for anyone who loves a good story well told.

Master Class, directed by Liesel Badorrek
June 14th-July 20th

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