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Play masters Maria Callas' class

A play set at Juilliard presents a universal message: Believe in yourself.

By JORGE SANCHEZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


HERNANDO -- Portraying one of the world's greatest opera singers in the stage play Master Class is a chance for the play's star to make a connection with the core of performance art.

"The play is not a musical," said Anna Sandoval, who portrays opera legend Maria Callas. "It's not a play about opera music. It's a play about art. It's about doing what you do with passion, because passion is the only thing you have."

Master Class refers to a period in Callas' post-opera career, in which she taught a select group of aspiring singers how to sing opera and become performers. The classes were held in 1971 at the Juilliard music academy in New York. The classes were so popular that spectators paid to sit in the auditorium to soak in the atmosphere.

The play is about Callas' attempt to teach students to pour their hearts and voices into an opera. "It doesn't matter what you do, whether you are a carpenter or an opera singer," Sandoval said. "It's important to believe in yourself. Everybody has creative talent, and that is the message of the play."

Opera lovers will be treated to several arias. Music by Verdi, Puccini and Bellini will be performed.

"The Bellini music is very difficult for me, but he's one of my favorite composers," Sandoval said.

The play's director, Pat Lewkowicz, said she and Sandoval had been thinking about this play for about four years.

"We've been reading biographies and watching films to prepare for this," Lewkowicz said. "Anna has really prepared herself for this role."

Sandoval said she first saw Master Class when it was performed in Tampa, with Faye Dunaway portraying Callas.

"Pat and I talked about it after that, and we've sort of been developing it over the years," she said.

Master Class has the spotlight on Callas for most of the play. It's a tour de force for Sandoval.

"I never had so many lines," Sandoval said. "It's a lot of monologues and times when she speaks to the audience."

Rounding out the cast are students, two sopranos (Nelimarie Zayas and Stephanie McCranie) and one tenor (Tim Shields).

The play breaks down the "fourth wall," meaning that the audience is recognized as part of the play and the lead character addresses members directly.

"This is a big challenge for Citrus County," Sandoval said.

At a glance

Master Class opens today at the Citrus County Art League, 2644 N Annapolis Ave., off County Road 486 west of Hernando. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays for three weekends through April 8. There will be no performance March 3l. Instead, there will be a performance at 7:30 p.m. March 29. Tickets are available at the art league box office from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Tickets are $8 in advance and $9 at the door. Call 746-7606.

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