Cherie Gil: MASTER CLASS Is Tougher Than DOUBT
"At that moment when I had to do Sister Aloysius in the local staging of "Doubt", I thought it was tough. Now that I've had to do Maria Callas in "Master Class", I must say it's the most difficult job I've ever done. It's a lot of memory work. I mean 80 percent I'm doing all the talking without leaving the stage..."
"And on top of it, when I do a play with a director as professional as Michael Williams, it's got to be verbatim, not one word has to be misplaced in the sentence. If I do, he gives me a big spanking with a belt. When we rehearse, he'd encircle all the words I didn't say, and underline those that I said which belongs to a different sentence. I don't want to short-change my audience. I don't want to cheat you. So whatever I say on stage is the way it's written. And so far the last time I played Callas, two years ago, I'm proud to say that there was not one night that I made a mistake...Oh yeah!" Ms. Cherie Gil spoke half in jest in a recent press conference for "Master Class".
On its tenth anniversary, the Philippine Opera Company ("La Boheme", "Harana") brings back its critically acclaimed production of Terrence McNally's 1996 Tony award-winning play "Master Class", starring Philippine cinema icon Ms. Gil in the role of the opera world's grand dame Maria Callas (1923-1977). Presented in a master class format, the straight play explores what could have transpired inside the opera's classroom with Callas at the Juilliard 1971-72, at the time when the dramatic soprano had already lost her voice.
Young Filipino theatregoers may not be aware of Callas' life and times but this must not hinder anyone to get up and get a ticket to the show. The play's central message is very universal, which makes the piece very accessible. "Master Class" talks about things that drive us forward, that get us out of bed...The play resonates even with young people who never have heard of Callas, because it's about the passionate pursuit of something. It's like Life 1O1," explained director Williams ("Sweeney Todd," "Miss Saigon")
In the show, McNally's ("Kiss of the Spiderwoman", "Love, Valour, Compassion!") script culminates into a monologue about sacrifices made in the name of art.
"We gave up a lot of ourselves totally for love and along the way ruined our voices," Ms. Gil said. The esteemed Filipino actress called it quits with her long-time husband and father to her two children, Bianca and Raphael, when she was about to open "Master Class" in 2008. She had since turned into acting in soap operas to keep her busy during "these transitions". Just like what Callas had to say in the play, "In art, there is always an entrance first, just as there is always an exit after. Art is all about these transitions, The rest is all ka-ka-pee-pee-doo-doo!," she said.
"I don't know what it is in my destiny that I just have to come and meet Callas again...It was the perfect time then, two years ago, because that was when I was undergoing a crisis. Since then so many things have happened. I've done four soap operas-I've never known where I've gotten the energy to do all that. I've traveled five times to visit my children. I did a movie with Peque Gallaga and here I am, so proud to say, back in full circle," she added.
Ms. Gil, who dreams to play Norma Desmond in the musical "Sunset Boulevard" someday, has been suffering from a serious throat problem (just like Callas during her coaching years). She tells fans: "I visited my throat doctor and looks like there's no getting around having my throat problem fixed through operation. I must do soon after 'Master Class' is over in August. Looks like I will have to take a semi-retirement period from all professional work to recuperate. I hope to be back soon though. So! Please don't miss the play. Just might very well be my last work after a long time!"
Although "Master Class" delves into the triumphs and tragedies of Callas' life, its primary focus is the art of dramatic singing. McNally takes the audience to a fictional master class handled by Callas where she explains to her students, two sopranos and a tenor, just what it takes to fully invest themselves into opera singing with real emotions. In doing so, Callas also reveals her own contradictory personalities - proud and egotistical yet also vulnerable and self-pitying.
When the Philippine Opera Company first staged "Master Class" with Ms. Gil, the production scored a casting coup. A limited engagement of ten performances proved to be too short.
"('Master Class') captured the fiery, explosive temperament and passion for perfection Peerce implied - traits which Cherie Gil magnificently conveyed...," claimed Rosalinda Orosa of The Philippine Star.
"Cherie Gil is in a class of her own. Maria Callas (has) reincarnated in Ms. Gil as she imbibes the true role of a diva: an extremely detail-oriented, melodramatic, and brutally frank perfectionist," said Shelley Jo Saracin of Pep.Ph.
Directed by Williams, this restaging of "Master Class" also features Juan Alberto Gaerlan as Anthony Candolino and Al Gatmaitan (alternate), Florence Aguilar as Sophie de Palma, Ana Feleo as Sharon Graham and Kay Balajadia-Liggayu (alternate), Francis Amora as the pianist Manny, and Chino Veguillas as the stagehand.
"Master Class" runs at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza with another ten performances on July 29, 30, 31, August 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, and 15, 2010. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:30 p.m. For tickets, call the Philippine Opera Company at (632)892-8786 or Ticketworld at (632)891-9999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.
"Master Class" will also have performances at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium at the Silliman University in Dumaguete City on August 20 and 21, 2010. For tickets, call (6335) 422-6002 local 520 or (63)9173235953.
Photos by William Wong and Ulysses Manuel
Cherie Gil, Florence Aguilar
Cherie Gil, Michael Williams
Maria Callas, Cherie Gil
Michael Williams, Cherie Gil
Cherie Gil, Michael Williams
Ana Feleo, Kay Balajadia-Liggayu, Florence Aguilar, Al Gatmaitan, Juan Alberto Gaerlan, Chino Veguillas