Meryl Streep (pictured) & Mike Nichols return to HBO with an adaptation of the Terrence McNally play Master Class which is about the operatic soprano Maria Callas. Oscar winner Mike Nichols (HBO’s ANGELS IN AMERICA and The Graduate) will direct the multiple award winner Meryl Streep (multiple roles in ANGELS IN AMERICA) in the HBO Films presentation. The Tony Award winning play will be adapted from the playwright himself.
Michael Lombardo, the president of HBO programming, had this to say upon the announcement:
“We are delighted to welcome back the incomparable Mike Nichols and the gifted Meryl Streep, whose collective brilliance shone on HBO with ‘Angels in America’ almost ten years ago. Terrence McNally’s riveting play about the iconic Maria Callas is the perfect platform for these two consummate talents.”
Originally mounted for the stage in 1995 and starring Zoe Caldwell, the Tony Award-winning Master Class was inspired by the legendary master classes that operatic great Maria Callas gave in the early ‘70s at the Julliard School. Amidst these classes with her hand-picked students, the indomitable Callas challenges her pupils while giving insight into the nature of her art and revealing the highs and lows of her storied life with passion, humor and deep emotion. The production is rich with music by Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and Vincenzo Bellini. Though Caldwell originated the role of Callas many actresses have played her including Patti LuPone, Dixie Carter, Faye Dunaway and Tyne Daly.
We can now add Meryl Streep to that list. Mike Nichols stated –
“It is a terrific play written with awareness of a great artist’s process and it will be one great artist playing another.”
Dramatist Play Service has the royalty rights to the play and describes the plot thus:
Maria Callas is teaching a master class in front of an audience (us). She’s glamorous, commanding, larger than life—and drop-dead funny. An accompanist sits at the piano. Callas’ first “victim” is Sophie, a ridiculous, overly-perky soprano, dressed all in pink. Sophie chooses to sing one of the most difficult arias, the sleepwalking scene from La Sonnambula—an aria that Callas made famous. Before the girl sings a note, Callas stops her—she clearly can’t stand hearing music massacred. And now what has started out as a class has become a platform for Callas. She glories in her own career, dabbles in opera dish and flat-out seduces the audience. Callas gets on her knees and acts the entire aria in dumb show, eventually reducing the poor singer to tears. But with that there are plenty of laughs going on, especially between Callas and the audience. Callas pulls back and gives Sophie a chance to use what she’s learned. As soon as Sophie starts singing, though, Callas mentally leaves the room and goes into a sprawling interior monologue about her own performance of that aria and the thunderous applause she received at La Scala. Callas wakes up and sends Sophie off with a pat. The next two sessions repeat the same dynamic, only the middle session is with a tenor who moves Callas to tears. She again enters her memories, and we learn about Callas’ affair with Aristotle Onassis; an abortion she was forced to have; her first elderly husband whom she left; her early days as an ugly duckling; the fierce hatred of her rivals; and the unforgiving press that savaged her at first. Finally, we meet Sharon, another soprano, who arrives in a full ball gown. With Sharon singing, Callas is genuinely moved, for the young singer has talent, but Callas tells her to stick to flimsy roles. Sharon is devastated and spits back every nasty thing you’ve ever heard about Callas: She’s old, washed up; she ruined her voice too early in her career; she only wants people to worship her, etc. Sharon rushes out of the hall, and Callas brings the class to a close with a beautiful speech about the sacrifices we must make in the name of art.
HBOWatch will give more details as this production develops. It is reported to not start filming until early 2015. Tyne Daly was the last to play Maria Callas and this is what she has to say about the operatic star and the role.
One last indulgence here as we give you a taste of the voice of Maria Callas. It was hard to find a short clip because most of them are lengthy arias, but HBOWatch found a short Puccini piece and it won’t kill you to hear it. We look forward to Meryl Streep in HBO films: MASTER CLASS.