Lucia Mastrantone’s Maria Callas Dominates Ensemble Theatre’s Master Class

In an era where the theatrical spotlight often shines on grandiose productions and larger-than-life musicals, the Ensemble Theatre’s Master Class offers a refreshing dive into the intimate and profound. This production delves into the life of opera legend Maria Callas as she conducts a master class for aspiring singers. Callas reveals the sacrifices and passions that shaped her iconic career through sharp critiques and reflective monologues, offering a poignant look at the intersection of art and life. Terrence McNally’s play intricately weaves Callas’ interactions with her students and the flashbacks of her memories, highlighting her sacrifices and unwavering dedication to her craft.

Under the insightful direction of Liesel Badorrek, this production shines with a balanced mix of intensity and nuance. Badorrek’s approach captures Callas’ formidable presence while also revealing the profound emotional undercurrents that drive her character. The direction skillfully navigates between the present-day master class and the evocative recollections of Callas’ past, ensuring a seamless and engaging narrative flow. Badorrek’s nuanced handling of the transitions between sharp, dramatic moments and quieter, introspective scenes keeps the audience thoroughly engaged and emotionally invested throughout the performance.

The musical direction, led by Maria Alfonsine, is integral to the production’s success. Alfonsine’s guidance ensures that the live music, featuring her expertise and Damian De Boos-smith’s evocative cello performance, enhances the dramatic depth of the play. The music becomes a powerful narrative tool, accentuating the emotional highs and lows and providing a resonant backdrop that underscores the intensity of Callas’ story.

Isabel Hudson’s set and costume design further elevate the production. The set, designed to resemble a rehearsal space, is grand and intimate, capturing the essence of Callas’s world. Hudson’s minimalistic yet effective use of props and Kelsey Lee’s lighting facilitate smooth transitions between the master class scenes and Callas’ poignant flashbacks. The costumes are meticulously crafted to reflect the period and character, adding an authentic touch that deepens the audience’s immersion in the narrative. Hudson’s design choices strike a perfect balance between simplicity and sophistication, allowing the focus to remain on the characters and their stories.

The ensemble cast, comprising Elisa Colla, Bridget Patterson, and Matthew Reardon as the opera students, delivers stellar performances that complement the lead. Patterson’s Sophie brings a blend of innocence and budding self-awareness, portraying a young artist on the brink of self-discovery. Reardon’s Tony is filled with earnest ambition; his interactions with Callas reveal reverence and anxiety. Colla’s Sharon is strong and assertive, navigating the complex dynamics of respecting and challenging Callas’ authority. Each student’s journey under Callas’ tutelage adds a rich layer to the narrative, providing a dynamic and engaging counterpoint to Callas’ towering figure.

Lucia Mastrantone’s portrayal of Maria Callas is a masterclass in itself. She captures the essence of Callas with a commanding presence that dominates the stage. Mastrantone’s Callas is fierce, witty, and unyielding in her pursuit of excellence, yet beneath her sharp exterior lies a profound vulnerability and a deep sense of loss. Mastrantone brings a multi-faceted performance that reveals Callas’s complexity as both an artist and a woman. Her ability to oscillate between Callas’ public bravado and her private introspection creates a compelling and deeply human portrayal that is both captivating and emotionally resonant.

This show is an exceptional gem that combines the grandeur of Callas’ legacy with the intimacy of her personal battles, offering a resonant and unforgettable theatrical experience. Whether you’re a longtime aficionado of opera or simply a lover of powerful theatre, Master Class is a rare opportunity to delve into the soul of an artist who dared to be extraordinary, making this production a must-see event on Sydney’s theatrical calendar.

– The other Daniel Craig


Daniel Craig is an international performer and has established himself as a trusted theatre specialist on the Sydney Arts Scene. While he understands the technical side of theatre, Dan writes for the everyday theatregoer (unlike some of those more prominent publications). When not in the audience, he loves to travel the world trying new gin. Follow him on all the socials @talldancraig

Master Class runs for 2 hours 20 minutes (including 20-minute interval) and plays at Ensemble Theatre through 20 July 2024. Tickets are available through Ensemble Theatre.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Kabuku Public Relations.
Image credit: Prudence Upton