“Master Class” is another wild card in the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s 2019 season. Like the previous “Bravo, Caruso!,” this drama is an homage to one of the 20th century’s operatic superstars, the late Maria Callas.
The inspiration for Terrance McNally’s script for “Master Class” came from seminars the diva taught at the Juilliard School of Music in the early 1970s. If that sounds all-too dreadfully academic, guess again — this fictional classroom session comes equipped with fireworks.
Equity actress Suzan Hanson brilliantly channels Callas, whose brief reign as the toast of the opera world became a Greek tragedy in later life. Her performance is marvelously complex and multifaceted.
As Callas, Hanson is haughty and indifferent to the feelings of the students who endure her criticism on one hand, yet warm and humorous in asides to the audience on the other. Only when Callas temporarily retreats into stream of consciousness reveries does Hanson allow us to see the opera star’s vulnerability and anguish over a lost career and love.
Regardless of which of those personas Hanson might be wearing at any given moment in “Master Class,” she still relentlessly pursues McNally’s theme of weighing the price artists are willing to pay for fame. In one of the play’s most electrifying moments, Callas asks a promising soprano if she would be willing to kill for a career or a man.
While the spotlight stays tightly focused on Hanson throughout “Master Class,” her supporting cast members add luster and depth to the drama.
As a young singer auditioning for Callas, Rose-Antoinette Bellino barely has the chance to clear her throat between the diva’s interruptions, but Bellino’s frustration adds a much-needed element of comedy to “Master Class.” Bridgette Gan beautifully performs an aria from Verdi’s “Macbeth,” before having her ambitions dismissed for supposed vocal limitations. David Smolokoff becomes the butt of an operatic inside-joke for being a “typical tenor.”
Lucky for us, these young performers will find more appropriate showcases for their talents later in the UFOMT production of “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Additional performances of “Master Class” are slated at the Utah Theatre in downtown Logan through Aug. 1. For ticket information, visit utahfestival.org.