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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2008

Rep's 'Master Class' brings a diva to life

Gloria Moulopoulos portrays Maria Callas. Gloria Moulopoulos portrays Maria Callas.

Gloria Moulopoulos, artistic director of the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, remembers seeing Zoe Caldwell portray Maria Callas on Broadway in Terrence McNally's play Master Class.

"I can recall listening to her accent, her inflections, and thinking 'I could do that,' " Moulopoulos said last week.

Last season, she was approached about portraying the fiery operatic diva as a fund-raiser for the Rep, and she agreed.

"That was a year ago. Now I'm asking: What have I gotten myself into?"

Directed by Jeffrey Albright, Moulopoulos will appear as Callas in a special benefit performance tomorrow at Owens Community College.

In the play, Callas is presenting a master class to three students at the Julliard School in New York City. Although her career is in decline, Callas is internationally famous as much for her tempestuous personal life - she is the mistress of Aristotle Onassis - as well as for the dramatic intensity of her performances.

Callas was a total diva, Moulopoulos said, but she was also a very insecure woman.

As a child, she was forced to sing by her demanding mother, who generally favored Maria's sister, Jackie. In public, Callas admitted that her relationship with her mother was strained, saying in a Time magazine article, "My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy andunpopular. It is a cruel thing to make a child feel ugly and unwanted ... I'll never forgive her for taking my childhood away."

McNally's work, which won the 1996 Tony and Drama Desk awards for best play on Broadway, isn't a straightforward biography, although Callas did present a dozen master classes at Julliard in 1971. Rather, it is a distillation of her life, her passion for her art, and her impatience with second-best.

Master Class is filled with lessons about theater and the hold it can have over an artist, Moulopoulos said. "Her lessons are lessons that I think translate to all the arts: Listen and understand."

Also in the cast of the Rep's production will be Maribeth Stahl as Sophie, John Hopkins as Tony, Diane McEwen-Martin as Sharon, Brian Weisenberger as a stagehand, and Kevin Bylsma as Callas' accompanist. Bylsma is also the music director for the show.

"Master Class," a benefit for the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, is scheduled Saturday in Owens Community College's Center for Fine and Performing Arts. A reception begins at 7 p.m., the performance starts at 8, and a dessert reception follows the show. Tickets are $75 for all three events or $25 for the performance and dessert only. Information: 567-661-2787.

- Nanciann Cherry

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