Terrence McNally's Master Class presented by Florida Opera Theater showcased insights into the mind of the world renowned singer Maria Callas. Susan Neves was original cast as Callas but she got sick just days before the show's opening. Seva Anthony stepped in to fill the lead roll having recently performed the roll this past summer at the Players Theater in Sarasota. of course, hearing this I lowered my expectations reverting back to the days I withheld respect for substitute teachers. However, the moment Seva walked on stage, she demanded respect, and she got it. She confronted several ladies in the front row, letting them know that they lacked a "look". She shouted to stage hands that the lighting was all wrong, and the audience was plunged into darkness.
She explained that this wasn't an evening about her. She would not be performing, and she expected no applause. She couldn't be bothered to remember the pianist's name, Manny, played by Austin McElwain, although she did recall that he wore a red shirt at a past workshop. Her stool was to tall so she demanded a foot stool. An elder stage hand, Larry Stallings, humbly delivered the stool. Finally Callas was ready and the first student (victim) was called out on the stage. Soprano Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez entered wearing a short skirt and black stockings. Callas demanded that the singer block her ears. Stunned, she clasped her hands over her ears. Callas turned to the audience and said something like, "See this is what I'm talking about, she has no look." Once she was done shredding the young singer, she shouted repeatedly for her to open her ears. As an audience member, I was rooting for the singer to impress the diva. When she sang her first luscious note, Callas shouted "Stop ! Stop! STOP!!!" confused the singer turned to her master. "What was that?!" Callas shouted. "I was just singing." the girl responded. " Exactly, don't just sing!" The young singer never got to perform. She left the stage bewildered, in tears. "Tears will never get you anywhere my dear, trust me, I know."
The next singer, soprano Janette Zillioli entered in a gorgeous purple gown. There could be no denying that she had a look! However Callas chided that she should never wear such a gown to a master class. "A gown like that should only be worn after midnight." She demanded that the singer should enter the stage in character and she personally demonstrated how to perform the entrance. The girl rushed off stage and didn't return. Tony, a lyric tenor, Brandon Evans, followed with some confidence. After a battle of wills, Callas demanded that he leave the stage. He stood firm and replied loudly, "No!" "Well." Callas replied that is the first interesting thing to have said, continue." His performance swept over Callas and she clutched her chest completely enthralled. Emotionally over whelmed she had no insights but wished him good fortune with his career. When he pressed her for advice, she said simply, "Remember the spring."
The beautiful soprano in the purple gown returned, She had been vomiting in the bathroom. When she finally sang, Callas thought back to her own crowning achievement singing the same roll. She had married a much older man named Ari, and his fortune helped skyrocket her career. She loved him a little, but never completely. On stage however she gave herself completely to the audience. "Applause is what we live on, sometimes it is a we have." Her husband came to resent her callous partial love. She got pregnant and wanted to have the child. It was too little, too late. He demanded that she have an abortion. She followed through, crushed. All this rushed through her as she listened to the young soprano's performance. She hadn't really been listening. Once again her ego managed to hurt the singers feelings. This time the singer struck back, "You want to make the world dangerous for everyone, just because it was dangerous for you!" She stormed off the stage, a stronger, more confident performer.
Calla's best insight was, "It is hard to care about rivals when no one else can do what you do." and, "I have to think that art makes a difference." The performers got a well deserved standing ovation. The painting of Callas, projected above the stage was by artist Colleen Ardman from Winter Park.