Tyne Daly gives a superb performance as opera great Maria Callas in Manhattan Theatre Club's worthy revival of Terrence McNally's play.
Under Stephen Wadsworth's knowledgeable direction, Daly's work as the late, great Greek soprano -- who was praised as much for the breadth of her acting as for a plangent, silvery voice that weakened too quickly -- will likely be remembered at awards time next spring. She's doing an impeccable job mastering Callas' legendary behavior, right down to an accurate accent and the use of her hands as expressively as the diva did.
During the two-act exercise, Callas -- who is teaching a master class -- deals with three aspiring opera singers (played and sung by Alexandra Silber, Garrett Sorenson, and Sierra Boggess), who in one way or another have not thought through, or even thought about at all, their performing obligations beyond deploying god-given voices.
Each reacts with appropriate embarrassment and contrition at what Callas chooses to point out to them -- often in so many stinging words -- about their need to listen to the music carrying them and immerse themselves in the roles they've taken on. Goaded into improving their techniques, they demonstrate growth, not to mention the traffic-stopping quality of their voices. Indeed, Silber and Sorenson flaunt their ability to fill large halls when necessary, while the Cinderella-stunning Boggess (clad in a purple Martin Pakledinaz gown) shows off a smaller but no less amazing instrument.
Throughout the piece, Daly is not just mercurial -- switching even between syllables from gracious to suspicious and from bountiful to defensive -- but amusingly and authoritatively stern when instructing not only the nervous wannabes, but also the audience (supposedly the crowd attending the class) on the complete commitment required in any artistic endeavor.
Also on hand for Callas to toy with are Manny, her diffident, always accommodating accompanist (Jeremy Cohen, who plays the Steinway & Sons piano beautifully), and a harangued stagehand (the comically unflappable Clinton Brandhagen).
Daly is especially effective in the play's two long speeches -- spoken arias, really -- that McNally positions towards the end of both acts. In them, Callas kinetically ruminates on her relatively short-lived but highly publicized career in international opera houses, as well as on the vicissitudes of her private life, most notably, when she was in thrall to the less-than-cultured Aristotle Onassis.