Tyne Daly plays that greatest of divas, Maria Calla, in Terrence McNalls Mast Class at New York’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Her much anticipated performance has been well received:
Towering before us — and tower she does, though she is not particularly tall — the celebrated opera singer is undeniably, overwhelmingly there. And yet she’s not there at all. One of the most daunting presences you’re ever likely to come across is, on some profound level, absent. Which makes it all the more impossible for you to take your eyes off her.
This paradox is the magic trick at the center of Tyne Daly’s remarkable performance as Maria Callas in “Master Class,” Terrence McNally’s1995 play about the twilight of that goddess of bel canto. The New York Times
As the play recreates a master class in singing, so Tyne Daly as the singer offers a master class in technique to inspire any acting student or colleague.
This extraordinary actress — probably still best known to TV audiences as detective Mary Beth Lacey in the 1980s series “Cagney & Lacey” — bears no resemblance either to Callas or to Zoe Caldwell, who originated the role in 1995.
And yet under Stephen Wadsworth’s finely detailed direction (note the exquisite calibration of her every move about the stage, as if it was a chess board and she the Queen) Daly captures Callas’s spirit and fire, her carriage, and learned hauteur. Most eerily, she nails Callas’s speaking voice.
Assisted by makeup and an elegantly formal black pantsuit, she brings the diva to fiery life as two young sopranos and a tenor subject themselves to her sometimes humiliating scrutiny. San Francisco Chronicle
As she did with Gypsy two decades ago, Daly, clad in chic black trouser suit and print scarf, shows herself at home in the raiments of a diva. Of the three qualities that Callas claims are essential for an opera star – discipline, courage, guts – Daly lacks only the third in her portrayal. The Financial Times
In Tyne Daly’s striking turn as Maria Callas, it’s not so much Callas’s imperiousness that comes across, as the ferocity of her self-belief. Or maybe what you feel is simply her intense need to believe in herself, a yearning stoked by the tangle of her great gifts and greater insecurities.
Whatever psychological complex might be ascribed to her interpretation of the mystique-enshrouded diva of Terrence McNally’s “Master Class,” Daly’s performance can safely be diagnosed as top of the line. The actress effectively shrinks the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, where the revival opened Thursday night, to the dimensions of a confessional, a place where we drink in the reveries and memories of a star whose voice gave out long before her ache for the follow spot. The Washington Post
Dressed in chic black pants suit and scarf, she cuts a glamorous image far from her “Cagney and Lacey” cop days. Ditto from her grasping Momma Rose in “Gypsy.”
Daly’s sturdy-looking singer isn’t exactly the picture of the svelte jet-setter Callas was in 1971, and the actress’ skittering accent sometimes visits France, Germany and beyond. No matter. The portrait is complicated and charismatic. She tempers withering critiques with notes of humor that make for an interesting, and humanizing, mix. Daly’s work is terrific enough to nudge you past the play’s built-in contrivances. New York Daily News
Daly achieves a decent approximation of Callas’ look thanks to spot-on makeup and a wig. But while she’s a terrific actress, her basic earthiness is at odds with the role of the refined woman nicknamed “La Divina.”
Daly nails the catty asides about Callas’ peers and can switch from imperious to coyly flirtatious in the blink of an eye. But there are also times when you wonder if Callas is coaching aspiring opera singers or a softball team. And when she drops the soprano’s signature “eh” at the end of sentences, Daly’s lands in the Atlantic somewhere between Italy and Canada. New York Post
Photo: Joan Marcus
Master Class By Terrence McNally. Directed by Stephen Wadsworth. Set, Thomas Lynch; costumes, Martin Pakledinaz; lighting, David Lander; sound, Jon Gottlieb; wig, Paul Huntley. With Alexandra Silber, Clinton Brandhagen. About 2 hours 15 minutes. At Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York.