Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 806
Manny the accompanist rehearses with Maria the day before the master class, but she cannot remember him since he is now wearing a different sweater. She tells him that he does not have a distinctive look and that he must acquire one. Manny is an admirer of Maria and does not react badly to her rather rough treatment of him in act one. In act two, he wins her praise.
Sophie de Palma
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Sophie de Palma is Maria’s first student. She tries to sing an aria from Bellini’s La Sonnambula but does not get past the first word before Maria interrupts her. Maria tells her that she is not listening to the music; she is singing but not really feeling the emotions of the character. Maria’s relentless criticism, although meant to be constructive, makes Sophie cry. Maria even tells her that her skirt is too short.
See Second Soprano
Maria is a woman of deep feeling and passion who has had many triumphs and tragedies in her life. Having suffered greatly, she believes this is the key to capturing the tragic emotions of the characters whose roles she sings. She is deeply proud of her achievements because through hard work and persistence she was able to overcome many obstacles. Even as a young woman during World War II, she did not allow hunger and other adversities to interfere with her studies. Her recollection of how a fat and ugly (in her own estimation) adolescent later became a beautiful woman on the stage at La Scala is tinged with pride and pain. There is also a hint of self-pity when she recalls that no one cared about the times she cried herself to sleep at night. It was only her performance on stage that people cared about. Totally dedicated to her art, Maria views a performance as a struggle for domination. She regards the audience as an enemy that she must conquer; she must win listeners over by convincing them that she is right in her singing and in her interpretation of the role. She believes that her musical art makes a difference in the world if practiced with dedication.
Maria reveals herself as a courageous, restless, tempestuous woman, much as the real-life Maria Callas was. Her anecdotes show that she was always ready to face her enemies, to relish her triumphs, and even to turn her disasters into triumphs. In her conduction of the master class, which she takes as seriously as her own performances, she is totally confident, even arrogant, regarding the rightness of her opinions about acting and singing. She is therefore an intimidating presence for the young students who have come to learn from her. She can be domineering and contemptuous, with an acerbic, mocking sense of humor. She is impatient with interruptions, browbeating the stagehand and using the accompanist as the butt of her humor. She is also ruthless in her appraisal of her students’ efforts. Although she is sincere in wanting to pass on her knowledge, she lacks patience, humility, and grace. She tells her students to forget about her presence, while making it impossible for them to do so. She is also always ready to disparage other singers, and she has withering put-downs for some of the great figures of the operatic world, such as Joan Sutherland, Renata Scotto, and Zinka Milanov.
Sharon Graham is Maria’s second student, who comes on in act two. She elects to sing Lady Macbeth’s entrance aria, known as the Letter Scene. Maria tells her that her beautiful gown is inappropriate for the occasion and then sends her off to make a more forceful entrance. But Sharon does not return, and Maria assumes that she has hurt her feelings. Later, Sharon does return, with the excuse that she was taken ill. She begins reading the text of the letter and then starts on the aria, as Maria aggressively coaches her. But when Maria tells her that she should attempt something less difficult, Sharon bursts into tears and says that she does not like Maria, adding that Maria can no longer sing and is envious of anyone who is young and can.
The stagehand, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, brings Maria a footstool and later a cushion. He is clearly uninterested in his work, and he arouses Maria’s contempt.
Anthony Candolini is the student tenor who has a session with Maria in act two. He has two music degrees and has performed some minor roles. His ambition is to be a great singer and to become rich and famous. He sings an aria from Puccini’s Tosca, and after some coaching from Maria he wins her enthusiastic approval.
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