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Master Class

Master Class
By Terence McNally
Directed by Meg Roe
Arts Club Granville Island Stage,
Arts Club Theatre Company
Sept 27 to Oct 27, 2012.

Vancouver, BC.  Voice students, Sophie (Shannon Chan-Kent) and Tony (Frédérik Robert) wander around the stage doing their vocal warm up. Manny (Angus Kellett), the accompanist, sits playing at the piano and The Stagehand (Felix LeBlanc) clomps around. It's the 1971-72 academic year at New York's Juilliard School, and the great diva, Maria Callas (Gina Chiarelli) is here to teach. The house lights are still up as Callas sweeps onto the stage and calls for them to be dimmed. We, the audience, are here to watch her conduct a master class. Sophie, Tony and Sharon (Melanie Krueger)  are the eager students who are about to become her "victims".

Professional singers, Chan-Kent,  Krueger and Robert all have glorious voices, though Callas doesn't let us get to hear much of Sophie's singing. As Manny, Kellett was the perfect accompanist, calm and holding it together for the students, through the ups and down's of Callas's emotional outpourings. But the show is about Callas, once the most influential operatic soprano, but now ageing, without her magnificent voice, deserted by her lover, with little left but her pride and her passion. Chiarelli was terrific as Callas. Mercurial in her performance; one moment impatient, bullying, mean; the next, encouraging, excited,  seemingly entranced as the student gets it right. But at the same time always looking inward, self-obsessed, focused on herself. 

I loved this play, though not as a portrait of a tragically talented individual. What resonated most with me as I struggle in my own learning process, to get my "mature" body to learn skills best acquired in one's youth, was the whole question of teaching and learning. What does it really mean to "be the best" that you can? What defines the right teacher for you? What are the things that just can't be taught that you have to find within yourself? And how do you find them? Does being a great performer in your field translate into being a great teacher?  How much can desire and hard work overcome physical obstacles? Callas passionately expounds on feeling the music in order to  perform it, not just sing the words. Last night I attended a class on musicality in Argentine Tango, and the message was the same. It's not enough to hear the rhythm, you must feel it. Those nuances, those thousand different shades of white, are what a good teacher can bring out of you.

This is another thumbs-up for me. Definitely worth seeing.

For tickets 604 -687-1644 or book  online