Gigi Bermingham will star as internationally renowned opera diva Maria Callas when International City Theatre (ICT) presents Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning Master Class. Todd Nielsen directs a four-week run beginning March 22 at ICT, located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Two low-priced previews are set for March 20 and 21.
Soprano Maria Callas had a legendary voice and an equally legendary life as one of the world's most celebrated-and gossiped-about-opera stars. In 1971, Callas taught a series of master classes at Juilliard during which she worked through her most famous arias from Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Puccini and others. McNally's play finds the illustrious singer near the end of her career, her voice almost gone, as she uses wicked humor, unrelenting criticism and deeply personal stories to instruct a group of aspiring young singers. Delving into the life and work of one of the 20th century's greatest talents, Master Class is a complex exploration of the relationship of an artist to her art.
"As a performing artist, I identify with Maria's grandiosity as well as her humiliation," says Bermingham. "It's a privilege to embody the essence of 'La Divina,' this fascinating, deeply sensitive woman whose own experience was as exquisite and as tragic as the operas she brought to life."
"Callas experienced such passionate dedication to her art on such a grand emotional scale," agrees Nielsen, who first fell in love with McNally's writing when he directed Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune for ICT a few years ago. "Master Class is so special because McNally has fused brilliantly poetic dialogue and wonderful humor with great music from classic operas."
Sharing the stage with Bermingham as Maria's students are Danielle Skalsky (toured the U.S., Canada and Portugal with Vox Lumiere's Phantom of the Opera) as young soprano Sophie De Palma; Jennifer Shelton (the first National Company of Ragtime, ICT Productions of Ain't Misbehavin', Five Course Love, The Story and more) as soprano Sharon Graham; Tyler Milliron (ICT's Loving Repeating and Cabaret) as tenor Anthony Candolino; award-winning pianist and concert soloist James Lent as accompanist Emmanuel Weinstock; and Jeremy Mascia (The Trial of Lizzie Borden at Zombie Joes Underground, Death of a Salesgirl at the Bootleg) as the stage hand.
Maria Callas was one of the great operatic stars of the 20th century, with an unmatched passion for her work. Born in New York City and raised by an overbearing mother, she received her musical education in Greece and established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of wartime poverty and with myopia that left her nearly blind on stage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. The press exulted in publicizing Callas' temperamental behavior, her rivalry with Renata Tebaldi, and her love affair with Aristotle Onassis. Her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press. However, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her "The Bible of opera," and her influence so enduring that, in 2006, Opera News wrote of her: "Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist-and still one of classical music's best-selling vocalists."
Gigi Bermingham is the recipient of numerous awards including the LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award and LA Drama Critics Circle Natalie Schafer Award for her solo comedy Non-Vital Organs. She is a member of The Antaeus Company, where she has been seen in Cabaret Noel, The Seagull, Tonight at 8:30, Mother Courage, Trial By Jury and Pera Palas (co-production with The Theatre @ Boston Court). Other theater: The Heiress (Pasadena Playhouse); Hermetically Sealed (Katselas Theatre Co.); Anne of Green Gables (MainStreet Theatre); The Cradle Will Rock (Blank Theatre); Henry V (Old Globe); The Cherry Orchard (w/Alfred Molina) and Tartuffe (Odyssey); Twelfth Night (New York Shakespeare Festival); One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Rubicon); and The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun (Playwrights' Arena). Her film credits include Rob Reiner's Alex and Emma and Save the Date, and television audiences will recognize her from Hart of Dixie, Weeds, C.S.I., 90210, Days of Our Lives and more. Soon on the web: Kittens in a Cage. She recently directed a critically acclaimed production of You Can't Take It With You for Antaeus.