ONE of the opera world’s most beloved and controversial figures will have her story brought to the stage in Terrence McNally’s Master Class.

After a sell-out season and critical acclaim in Melbourne last year, this August will see Sydney — followed by Melbourne once again in September — get a chance to witness the tragic story of Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas.

[showads ad=MREC]The story of Callas is a sad one. She led a conflicted life, spending years dealing with troubled relationships and trying to find her identity within the opera world. Taking the lead role of Callas is renowned performer Maria Mercedes, who felt it was a perfect fit for her.

“I agreed to play Maria because it was almost like destiny… serendipity… I could never turn this role down because I could not turn my back on Maria,” Mercedes told the Star Observer.

“What appealed to me most about Maria’s story was that she dared to break convention within the opera world. She fought to be accepted and longed for love. We witnessed her sacrifices not only for her art but also in her personal life, for Aristotle Onassis.

“Hers was an incredible story. She totally transformed herself from an overweight ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. It’s a role you cannot fake and you wear the emotional scars with pride.”

Despite not knowing Callas’ story before Master Class came around, Mercedes found an affinity for the singer.

“I had become familiar with the life of Callas only six months prior to the commencement of Master Class when I attended an acting work shop. We all had to choose a character to bring to life during the workshop,” she said.

“One morning I woke up with Callas running through my mind, so I guess she chose me. Of course I researched her and found that our lives had parallels — being of Greek heritage with immigrant parents, the innate need to fit in, to succeed in the arts and to express what burned within.

“Hers was a rags-to-riches story based on incredible tenacity, incredible instincts and an incredible gift.”

Considered by many to be a gay icon, taking on that role was something that appealled to Mercedes as an actor.

“I believe I have played other gay icons. Luisa Contini in Nine, Norma Desmond in Boulevard, Mama Morton in Chicago and now Callas,” she said.

“I often think what makes these characters so appealing to the gay community is that their souls are somewhat unique.

“They want unconditional love, they want to be understood and accepted, and they want to give every ounce of their being.”

Producer Cameron Lukey agreed.

“To be honest, up until 20-30 years ago, there weren’t many gay icons whose lives weren’t tragic in some way. But the tragedy, however compelling and unavoidable, does not define them,” Lukey told the Star Observer.

“What people remember is their talent and their bravery. For me, I’m fascinated by the complexity of their lives. The highs and lows. That said, while I think it’s important to look back, we also need stories that reflect our reality now. Things have changed. The diva can live and the guy can get the guy. Depicting that is my next project.”

Lukey said Callas’ story continues to influence and impact audiences long after her untimely death at 54.

“The desire to dedicate yourself to something is innately human,” he said.

“Maria is just an extreme example of that. She had an amazing drive to succeed, and like anyone, just wanted to be loved. I think most people, gay or straight, male or female, can relate to that.”

Master Class is playing at the Hayes Theatre Co from August 11-30 and from September 1-13 at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne. For details and bookings, click here

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**This article was first published in the August edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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