IF YOU GO
What: Play about the life of opera diva Maria Callas
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday, April 21; 3 p.m. matinée showings on Saturdays & Sundays.
Where: Daniels Pavilion at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples
Information: 866-811-4111 or gulfshoreplayhouse.org
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Marina Re has never been accused of being a diva.
Well, not exactly. Her eyes flash and the corners of her mouth turn up in the beginnings of a grin that quickly spreads to her entire face. Her nose crinkles and she giggles conspiratorially.
"My friends all said 'This should be the easiest role you've ever done!'" Re laughed as she perched in a spindly office chair across a desk from me on the second floor of the Toni Stabile Education Building. The actress had just come out of rehearsal for the Gulfshore Playhouse production of "Master Class," Terrance McNally's play about an aging opera star who turns to the classroom after her career ends.
Based on the life of Maria Callas, the show soars through love, loss, anger, frustration and more. "Master Class" marries music and art - and tries to take the audience behind and into the soul of an artist.
"Master Class" runs April 4-21 in the Daniels Pavilion at the Naples Philharmonic. The show represents the latest in a string of cooperative ventures between the Phil and Gulfshore Playhouse. The show, which features operatic interludes and grand sung arias, was "the right show for the Phil," Gulfshore Playhouse founder and producing artistic director Kristen Coury said.
Coury praised Kathleen van Bergen's fostering of partnerships; she then ticked off the technical gains like more lights, better sound and the amazing acoustics that come with the Daniels Pavilion. But "Master Class" is not about lights, sound or acoustics. It is not even about arias. It is about passion.
Maria Callas revolutionized opera by bringing emotion to scenes; Coury hopes the "Master Class" does something of the same for audiences by making opera a touch more accessible to them.
"It's full of humor. There's lots of funny moments. She [Maria Callas] was such an interesting character," Coury said. "It's a great play." Later in our interview, she describes Callas as the pop star of her day, the type who hung around with royalty and the very rich. And true, there was that whole thing with Aristotle Onassis.
For Re, who's on stage for the entire play, learning the role was "a process."
The actress started six months ago, taking the script "a chunk at a time," working on the text around her other roles and learning so much per month.
One of the challenges came in trying to time the two Callas "arias" - lengthy monologues about the diva's life - to exact points in the musical underscoring. The speeches serve as the character's musical performances, as she now teaches because her voice was ruined by a punishing career.
"[The arias] are written so perfectly," Coury said. "The playwright must have sat down every day for 80 days and wrote this aria."
As Re speaks, giving voice to the struggles of life on stage, the voice of Callas will fill the hall. Coury describes it as "glorious."
Not a musical theatre actress ("No one ever wants to hear me sing!" quips Re), the actress has to remember the speeches and recite them in exact tune with an aria of the real Maria Callas performing.
Coury hopes to convince audiences of the passion the diva carried into her life, the fire that drove her and the driving ambition that ultimately caused her to destroy her voice in her forties. It is the same thing that drives artists of all stripes to create create art.
"I think that this is a play about passion," Coury said. "People don't realize that what forces a person to become an artist is that they are so passionate that they have no other choice."
Music. Art. Life. Passion. Callas.