When you decide to produce "Master Class," the gushing Terrence McNally slice of the life of famed soprano Maria Callas, there are temptations that need to be fought off.
One of them is allowing the play to get out of hand, and that is the function of a masterful directing job by Jill Anna Ponasik, who is the artistic director of the Milwaukee Opera Theatre.¬†
Angela Iannone reprised her role as the great opera singer when Milwaukee Chamber Theatre opened its 40th season with a production of the play Friday night at the Broadway Theatre Center. The show runs through Aug. 24.¬†
The show is truly a one woman play, even though there are other characters scattered about. They are all mere foils for a part that demands towering strength and passion, which Iannone delivers in spades.
But it is also a very special job by Ponasik, who co-directed with James Zager of Carroll College.
Your normal opera has dozens of people running around a stage, all singing or dancing even, and an opera director is as much a traffic cop as an artistic muse. Not in this production.
Ponasik displayed a remarkable sense of tender grace in letting the story be told without interference from outside events. It paid off in a night of theater that climbed well beyond the limits of the play and rode on the shoulders of these two women who have met in some kind of special place for this special role.
The story is about Callas, near the end of her career, no longer singing but instead teaching a master class at Juilliard School. Three singers come to learn, but for Callas, each encounter is merely an excuse for her to journey back in time to when she was the toast of the world and the mistress of Aristotle Onassis, until being overthrown for a younger woman, Jackie Kennedy.
Iannone is imperious and very funny, most often at the expense of others. But she makes a constant case for art and reveals that both her life and her career were pitched battles. Battles she happily won.
"Performance is a struggle you have to win," she says. "The audience is the enemy. Art is about domination."
Callas is the character in this play who comes closest to being a real, fully developed person. The others, while ably played by able actors, seem to be almost caricatures you might expect in such a teeming situation as a master class with a diva at the helm.
Iannone is a marvel to behold on this stage. She moves with the grace of a dancer and has a face that is a window into a soul both bedeviled and bedazzled by her memories. She talks with kind of a dashing humor with the audience and with a stridently high standard with those around her, including the three students.
Memorable and impressive work was also done by Chris Guse, who designed the sound that featured Callas singing while Iannone listened and lightly mimed the lyrics in apparent rapture at the sound she created. Guse also designed the stunning projection of La Scala, the famed Italian opera house where Callas made her debut.
A play about a real person ‚Äď a famous person ‚Äď is fraught with difficult propositions. Do you create a character who resembles what most fans remember? Do you meld a wide variety of artists who make up a whole that you wish the famous person had been?
McNally faced all those questions when writing this play almost 20 years ago, and he came up with some easy answers that left holes in whom Maria Callas was.
But those holes are filled magically buy Iannone and Ponasik, who somehow figured out how to make Callas larger than life, as she was, but still tiny enough that we could all wrap our arms around her.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Aug. 23, 2016
The Milwaukee theater season is underway and I've been looking through the schedule. I've found 24 productions I'm really anticipating. There are going to be others, and surprises, but my 24 are the productions I can't wait to see and experience.
Published Aug. 18, 2016
As Milwaukee struggles with the issue of how to deal with racial violence, it's critical to find answers to two key questions. The first question is how did Milwaukee become so racist. The second is how do we fix a culture that loves violence.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
Simon Mustaffa is 18 and lives in the Central City. He's off to UWM with a full scholarship and he has strong views about the violence in Sherman Park. For him, it's not a surprise at all; this explosion was a long time coming.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
All In Productions has a history that can be measured in months, but it has already staged some wonderful plays. It has produced five so far, and the next one is directed by artistic director Robby McGhee, who knows where this company wants to go.
Published Aug. 13, 2016
Under the feathery touch of director Marcella Kearns, Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" takes isolation, desolation and disappointment and stands them on their ear, filling the Cabot Theatre with chuckles, laughters and outright roars of fun
Published Aug. 12, 2016
A sweltering hot August night was the perfect atmosphere for the opening night of "No Exit," Jean Paul Sartre's trip through his particular and peculiar vision of hell. The Dale Gutzman-directed production is a searing journey through the existential mind.
Published Aug. 11, 2016
Election day has come and gone and some of the results in the primary contests are satisfying, but also quite a bit troubling. Leading the satisfaction category is the reelection of District Attorney John Chisholm over Verona Swanigan, 65% to 35%.
Published Aug. 9, 2016
If you are young(ish), headed out on a warm Saturday night and want to go drinking Downtown, you have your choice of four distinctly different areas and crowds to join. As an Uber driver, I spend lots of time in all four places.
Published Aug. 4, 2016
First take a tempest. Then take a teapot.Then put the tempest in the teapot. Here's what you get, according to the dictionary. "A small or unimportant event that is over-reacted to, as if it were of considerably more consequence." We've got them.
Published Aug. 2, 2016
The sale of the office building at the Broadway Theatre Center seems inevitable and the action will force two local companies, Chamber Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks to find new office space, as well as new performance venues.