The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Master Class is based on the master classes given by the renowned real-life opera singer Maria Callas at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City in 1971 and 1972. In the play’s two acts, Maria’s interactions with her students are interspersed with reminiscences of her stormy life.

After Maria enters, wearing expensive clothes, she tells the audience there must be no applause because this is a working session. Music, she says, is a demanding discipline. There are no short cuts to success. She tells of how, during World War II, she used to walk to the conservatory and back every day, even though she had no proper shoes. Then she subjects her accompanist to some withering remarks that reveal her abrupt and imperious manner, after which she turns her attention to her first student, a young soprano named Sophie de Palma. Maria criticizes her appearance and tells her to get over her nerves. Sophie manages only to sing the first word of her chosen aria, from La Sonnambula (1831) by the Italian composer Vicenzo Bellini, before Maria interrupts. It is not the only time she interrupts, as she tries to get Sophie to listen to the music and to feel the true emotions of the character, the passion behind the words. She berates the hapless student for not having a pencil handy to take notes and for not knowing the names of all the great sopranos.

As Sophie begins to sing, Maria reminisces about her own performance as a recording of Maria Callas is played. She recalls her relationship with the wealthy Greek businessman Aristotle Onassis. Imitating his crude manner of speaking, she has him say that it was because...

(The entire section is 674 words.)