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Hitting the High Notes

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A new production of a play about one of the most legendary of all opera singers tours this autumn and early next year, including many dates in the south-east. It’s Terrence McNally’s Broadway hit Master Class, starring Stephanie Beacham and directed by Jonathan Church. The subject is, of course, Maria Callas.

Two screenplays based on Callas’ life and career was reportedly about to go into production. This play is based on the master classes she gave in the early 1970s in New York, after her final stage performances. You can argue until the proverbial cows come home about Callas’ voice and the way she used it but anyone fortunate enough to have seen her at Covent Garden (as I did) in the title roles of Norma and Tosca will know that it was her whole stage presence and not simply its individual elements which made that unforgettable theatrical magic.

As Callas works with three young singers just venturing into their professional careers, she reminisces on her past on-and off-stage, perhaps in self-justification but also as part of her lesson to a new generation. Beacham was recently on tour in Peter Hall’s production of Hay Fever; this is also a Theatre Royal Bath production. Church is the artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre and the Broadway production of Master Class won McNally Tony and Drama Desk awards.

You can see this new production at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in the week starting on 8 November, at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon for the week of 15 November, at the Chichester Festival Theatre from 22 November and at the Theatre Royal in Bath for the week of 29 November. For the week beginning on 17 January it is at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford then at the Richmond Theatre for the week of 24 January and at the Theatre Royal in Brighton from 14 February. Other dates are still to be confirmed.


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