Faye Dunaway as Maria Callas in "Master Class"

"A Master Class with Maria Callas"
by Terrence McNally
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
June 4-8
(604) 280-4444


Ed Farolan

It was a refreshing experience to see a film star I've always admired do her artistic tour de force on stage. The charisma of Faye Dunaway on stage is as vibrant and exciting, if not more, as she is on the big screen.

Her portrayal last night of the temperamental and high-strung Maria Callas was powerful and brilliant. What struck me the most in Ms. Dunaway's performance were the internal monologues that tore the soul of Maria Callas apart.

Imagine this: a solitary spotlight on Maria Callas: her mind wanders in the middle of her Master Class as she remembers painful memories of her lover, Aristotle Onassis. She talks to herself in a ranting dialogue/monologue which oftentimes seems baffling, almost the babblings of a mad woman. Her pace is at super -speed as she delivers her lines-- and yet, all of a sudden, she pauses, giving way to painful emotions. She continues delivering in the raw and harsh crudeness of what she is, but holds the audience spellbound--one could, as the adage goes, "hear a pin drop" in one of those pregnant pauses as she agonizes her past.

Then, the lights come up and we are brought back to the reality of her Master Class where she, the Master, gives her philosophy of art and the opera, as we, the audience, the students, listen to her every word, in her charming Greek accent. We burst out laughing as her students enter one at a time. She makes fun of the plump Sophie (Melinda Klump), scrutinizes Sharon (Suzan Hanson) for her Lady Macbeth aria telling her that the role doesn't suit her and that she would be better off as Mimi. Then Tony (Kevin Paul Anderson) enters, conceited, out to conquer the world. But Callas doesn't like his attitude, but he begs her to hear him, and she is touched by his sudden change from braggart to beggar. Suddenly, we see another side of Callas: the sensitive, compassionate human being, as she is moved to tears by Tony's aria, "Recondita Armonia" from Puccini's Tosca.

This was Ms. Dunaway's intense portrayal of Maria Callas. On the one hand, crude, castigating, doleful and harsh; and on the other, light, joking, relaxed, in her rapport with Vancouver's opening night audience. She delighted each and everyone of us as we laughed and reacted to her perfectly timed punch lines.

The genius of playwright Terrence McNally who wanted to portray the emotional rawness as well as the sensitive soul in Callas was brilliantly put together by the superb performance of Ms. Dunaway. In McNally's words: "Callas sees and hears what other singers are deaf and blind to: the poetry of the music...Callas sings meaning...the intensity of the feelings and the flashes of genius that still astonish but can never be duplicated."

And Ms. Dunaway is Callas reincarnated in Master Class!

The standing ovation and three curtain calls was a but a miniscule gesture of Vancouverites who expressed their delight and appreciation of the artistic genius and magnificence of Faye Dunaway's superb performance.