• Theater Review: Callas closes Vermont’s opera month
    By Jim Lowe
     | June 26,2013
    Jim Lowe / Staff photo

    A terrified Sophie (Mariana Weisler), left, sings for Maria Callas (Lois Resseguie ) in BarnArts’ “Master Class.”

    BARNARD — It couldn’t be more appropriate. After Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” in Middlebury, Britten’s “Albert Herring” in Warren and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in Barre, Vermont’s annual month of opera is being topped off with “Master Class” in Barnard.

    BarnArts, a new Barnard theater and music company, has created a riveting production of Terrence McNally’s 1995 imagining of a master class with the great opera diva Maria Callas. Not only does this excellent professional production, running through June 30 at Barnard Town Hall, offer insight into one of the greatest singer-actors of all time, it tells a compelling story and showcases some fine opera stars of tomorrow.

    Callas (1923-1977), the American-born Greek soprano, was one of the most successful, albeit controversial opera stars of all time. Much more than a great singer, Callas was a great artist. She was one of the very few able to successfully deliver her characters’ inner feelings through her singing.

    Despite a voice that was far from the most beautiful, she was able to act through modulating that voice, and the result was riveting. She is considered to be one of the greatest singers of all time.

    “Master Class” gives real insight into that artistry.

    Callas was equally at home on the front pages of the tabloids as on the opera stage. She was renowned for her temperament, but colleagues said that was more a demand for professionalism. But her fiery affair with the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis and subsequent meltdown when he married Jacqueline Kennedy was front-page news. That, too, is reflected in “Master Class.”

    McNally’s play is based on Callas’ Juilliard master classes and structured like an actual master class, with asides by the diva explaining her life. The BarnArts production is directed by Jarvis Green, the company’s founder and artistic director, and features a most competent cast.

    At the Sunday afternoon performance, Lois Resseguie, a Barnard resident, delivered a totally convincing performance as the feisty Callas, one of the show’s two non-singing roles. She really comes across as this emotionally troubled great artist. It isn’t long before it’s easy to forget that this is only a play.

    Harrison Beck, a New York actor and music director, had the pivotal role of the class accompanist. Beck’s Manny sympathetically bantered with the diva and even played the piano well (and quietly sang the tenor part with one of the sopranos).

    The singers were played by three young New York performers beginning their opera careers. Mariana Weisler, with her crystalline soprano, was Sophie who didn’t understand the meaning behind the words in Bellini’s “La Sonnambula,” nor the composer’s directions.

    Soprano Alexandra Smith, with a more dramatic voice, as Sharon leaves the stage to throw up after Callas mocks her entrance as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, but returns for more. Marco Jordao, a fine tenor, as Tony, actually challenges Callas. (Nate Hinson was just fine as the unimpressed stagehand.)

    Although the performance lacked a feeling of climax, the drama was there because of some fine singing and acting. Simple scenic design by Tom Beck, attractive costumes by Holly Levison and dramatic lighting by Corinna Dooley added to the professional production.

    BarnArts’ “Master Class” is the perfect coda to Vermont’s opera month.

    ‘Master Class’

    BarnArts presents Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” June 21-30 at the Barnard Town Hall. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets ($15, $10 for students), call 332-6020, or go online to www.barnarts.org.

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