Celebrated Greek-Australian performer Maria Mercedes takes on the role of a lifetime as legendary Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas.
Maria Mercedes brings her amazing talent and wealth of experience to this project she describes as the role of a lifetime.
I spoke with Maria about the project, her life and all things in between.
Maria Callas was an amazing artist, but for me she was a passionate and complex human being, haunted by many shadows. The play 'Master Class' is a very significant piece for me. Though Maria Callas and I were Universes apart, I find there are many parallels between her life and my own. We are both daughters of Greek immigrants, she was born in New York and I was born in Melbourne. Both our fathers were named George. She grew up so unsure of herself, feeling unattractive & ugly because she felt she didn't fit in with what was considered the norm in her school. She wasn't blonde and blue eyed. I suffered the same self doubts growing up in Melbourne. We both had a passion for singing which enabled us to transform. For me the most challenging part as an actor is to bring the essence of Maria's soul to life. I won't be doing an impersonation. I want to reflect her 'light', warts and all.
On stage I am usually performing in musicals. This time I'm in a play whose genre of music is Opera, which is not the world I come from. Hence I won't be singing, a first for me! Also, speaking in Italian in the play will be very challenging. Not since 'Nine' have I needed to speak Italian on stage. As a person, the challenging part is to not allow myself to be swept into Maria's grief and sorrow, but to bathe in her exquisite example of dedication and love.
This whole opportunity came about by extraordinary synchronicity. I participated in a week of master classes with acting teacher Elizabeth Kemp from 'The Actor's Studio' in New York early this year. My character of choice was Maria Callas and it was the most challenging week of my life. I had to bring Maria Callas to life by exploring all her psychological shadows and my own shadows at the same time. Prior to the master class/Workshop with Elizabeth, I had known nothing about Maria Callas. As I discovered her I totally fell in love and Elizabeth insisted that I do the play 'Master Class'. She wanted to direct me in it. So I put it out there, one thing led to another, Left Bauer found out through the grapevine that I wanted to play Callas and here we are today, about to open 'Master Class'. Unbelievable.
Maria's & my shared cultural background is the conduit to a deeper understanding of how we think, express, appreciate and execute our passion and pride in all things. In life, art and love. There is a 'fire' in Greek and Mediterranean cultures. We have a Greek word, 'Kefi’, which is used in the context of connecting to a force, a vibe that gives your soul an opportunity to rise with the music you are listening to or to dance to music that has a beat that reverberates on a very deep level. Maria Callas knew what gave her 'Kefi’, as I do also. This element cannot be taught or studied. The Greek blood runs very deep in our veins. So in a way it gives me the ability to enter her 'thinking'.
In McNally's play we see Maria at New York City’s Julliard in the 70's. She was asked to give a series of master classes as she was not actively singing anymore. Truth be known, her voice was failing her. Over the course of the play, she is challenged by the lack of dedication and preparation of the students singing for her and finds this lack of seriousness on their behalf insulting and irritating. She is at a precarious time in her life also. Will her voice ever return? Will she perform again? What is her place in the Opera world other than being a ‘Legend'? During this time we also delve into Maria's inner demons and the conflicts of her professional and private life, particularly with Aristotle Onassis. Her heartbreak will be revealed.
I have been researching Maria from the beginning of this year through books, documentaries and recordings of the master classes she gave. The one thing that stands out for me is Maria's 'Authentic' &' Uncompromising' nature. She was one of a kind.
First of all, Master Class hasn't been seen in Melbourne for close to 14yrs. It’s a jewel of a piece and that's one good reason to come along and see our production. Maria Callas is one of the most extraordinary theatrical legends of our times. Whether you like Opera or not is beside the point, you will be fascinated and drawn in by her persona, her passion, her uncompromising attitude to artistic perfection. And you’ll be witness to how hard she drove herself to attaining perfection, yet as a woman, abandoned it all for love. In the master class arena, the duelling between her and her students is very, very entertaining. McNally has masterminded a brilliant piece of theatre that brings all these elements to life.
August 19 – 28