BWW Reviews: Iannone and MCT Present MASTER CLASS on the Power of Art
In opening Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 40th Anniversary season, Milwaukee actor Angela Iannone reprises the role of Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Tony Award winning play Master Class this August. While Callas has ultimately been lauded as the top operatic singer in the last century, Iannone has garnered a 2014 Ten Chimneys Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship under David Hyde Pierce's directorship. Then Iannone was recently awarded Milwaukee's second Ruth Schudson Leading Lady Honoree that adds to her multiple theater achievements. These two women appearing in different eras represent a master force on the power of art to transform a culutral landscape that christens Milwaukee's 2014-2015 theater season.
In McNally's play, Callas teaches an opera class, the Cabot Theatre audience, in the latter years of her brilliant career, when her voice had begun to fade. Iannone commands the stage the entire evening to display acting and life experience, perseverance and wit while demonstrating Callas' dedication to her art, and thus Iannone's, throughout the intense performance. Callas instructs her "students" that to excell at art, music or theater requires "discipline, technique and courage combined with genius and inspiration."
Which is exactly what Iannone applies to this role, by giving her audience a Maria Callas who for all her fame and fortune, only desired to be loved for herself. Plagued by her larger body image in her youth and early career, Callas' weight loss plan undertaken mid career so she could embody her operatic characters more completely for her audiences transformed her into a beautiful, sophisticated woman, the envy of many.
However, the counterbalance between body image and self-identity or personal and professional goals, her newly acclaimed beauty brought Callas no closer to what she desired, to be loved by one person in her life, Aristotle Onassis, who refused to marry her despite her svelte figure, weath and unparelled talent. This frustration resurges in the second act when Callas reads a message from a massive bouquet sent to her and placed on the piano and then tosses the note away with the comment... "Always we love you, never I love you."
This phrase reinforces to all women, and then perhaps men, that despite any superhuman gifts or worldy success, everyone wishes to be appreciated for their unique individuality behind the scenes because the accolades of only an audience can othewise lead to a lonely life outside the stage. Iannone balances the personal and professional Callas with equally fierce grace and resilence, exposing Callas the outstanding opera star and the vulnerable woman who lost a child she desperately wanted, dilemmas underscoring the lives of many successful women.
The superb evening of theater collaboration between MCT, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Carroll University includees co-directors Jill Anna Ponasik and James Zager, a stellar supporting cast and theater technicians who dazzle the audience with projections of Callas' momentous opera memories when time stands still in the performance while Callas relives them.
In a production complemented by the dramatic black and white scenic design, Music Director and accompanist Brian Myers plays the baby grand piano in the role of Mani. So the three students Callas teaches, actors Melissa Cardamone, Edson Melendez and Alicia Berneche, can deliver opera arias audiences will appreciate, especially Bernache in the role of Sharon. A student who leaves the class under Callas's tough tutelage, Sharon unwinds in the powder room and then returns to Calllas' classroom to sing a moving aria where "you never move your hands unless you move your heart."
Iannone, through the character of Callas, superbly illustrates "in theater, we wear our hearts on our sleeves." which she certainly on and off stage in her own outstanding career, where the power of art, a valuable commodity worth paying for, can be viscerally and visually seen throughout this moving performance After which Callas reminds the audience "art is beauty, beauty is important, and don't give anything away" because "there are no short cuts in art or life."
McNally and MCT'S impressive Master Class featuring Iannone proves art, music and theater create riches in an otherwise culturally impoverished world, only possible with dedication and perserverance. And even when an individual achieves career or material riches, they still desire to be loved on a very personal level, curvy or slim, whether exceptional genius, merely gifted, or only above average in thier professional life. The must-see production demands from the audience to do what Callas asks of her "students" before exiting the Cabot Theatre Stage in this marvelous Master Class production: "Use whatever you have learned wisely."