Tag Archives: Maria Callas

Peoria Live Theatre League Sings the Praises of “Master Class”

We received a stellar review of our current production of Master Class from The Live Theatre League of Greater Peoria’s website!  Here are some of the highlights…

Review of Master Class
Peoria Cabaret Theatre
March 4, 2011
By Douglas Okey

 Even theatre-goers who do not know opera know Maria Callas.  Comparisons to Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan stretch the point, but to some degree Callas was a bad girl in her day.  Scandal and controversy seemed to trail La Divina, as she was sometimes called.  Most familiar to many Americans might be her long-time dalliance with billionaire Aristotle Onassis, who later put the “O” in “Jackie O.” 

The Maria Callas at the center of Terence McNally’s 1995 play Master Class,directed by Andrew Driscoll for Peoria Cabaret Theatre at the Waterhouse, has long since put most of the eyebrow-raising behind her.  The story is inspired by a series of master classes in opera that Callas conducted at Juilliard in the early 1970s.  This Callas very much plays the diva with her students and support staff, but McNally’s play explores the complex demands placed upon an artist in the public eye.   

In the story, Callas, played here by Susan Somerville Brown, addresses the audience as she prepares to work individually with students coming in to work with the legendary soprano.  She interacts with the classroom accompanist, Manny (a subtle performance by Anthony Roberts) and a stagehand played by Ed Peck.  In these dealings, Callas behaves with an air of entitlement that would make Naomi Campbell proud, but a warm sense of humor blunts the point of her sting.  Still, the students—two sopranos played by Rebecca Meyer and Elisabeth Richter and a tenor played by Jarod Hazzard—stand suitably in awe of her fame and talent.  These accomplished singers each bring out a different aspect of Callas’s personality, and those aspects are not always flattering.

…Somerville Brown’s Callas demands our attention from the moment she takes the stage.  She demonstrates the ability to capture and control; she captivated the opening night audience at several key moments throughout the play.  It’s easy to imagine how small one might feel under that steely gaze for too long, so we can sympathize with the students.  As she gradually reveals bits and pieces of her past, always with the dismissive, “But that’s another story,” we begin to understand how the eye of the public took its toll on Callas herself… It is a gripping performance in a daunting role… 

Playgoers note: though opera is the subject, no special familiarity with either the music or the industry is required to enjoy this fine performance

 You can read the full review HERE.

 Master Class continues this Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12 at The WaterhouseReservations can be made by calling The Waterhouse office at 309.494.9100 or ONLINE HERE. The doors will open at 6pm for cocktails and a three course plated dinner is served starting at 6:30pm. The show will begin promptly at 8:00pm.  Admission is $45 with a portion of every full price admission donated to Opera Illinois League.


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Maria Callas to Play in Peoria to Benefit Opera Illinois

Maria Callas (Susan Somerville) insructs the First Soprano (Rebecca Myer) as Manny (Anthony Roberts) plays during Peoria Cabaret Theatre's "Master Class"

Peoria Cabaret Theatre at The Waterhouse proudly presents MASTER CLASS March 4, 5, 11, 12 to benefit Opera Illinois League.  MASTER CLASS is Terrence McNally’s Tony winning masterpiece about Maria Callas. Inspired by a series of master classes the great diva conducted toward the end of her career, this drama puts Maria Callas at center stage again as she coaxes, prods, and inspires students into giving the performances of their lives while revealing her own. Dazzling theatricality comes from Callas’s cunning wit, her emotional explosions, & the soaring music as each student sings an aria that exposes the Divina’s vulnerabilities …and her genius.

 A Tony winner for Best Play, MASTER CLASS stars Susan Somerville (courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association) as Maria Callas. The cast also includes local opera favorite Elisabeth Richter as Second Soprano (Sharon), the role that won a Best Supporting Actress Tony for Audra McDonald. Rounding out the cast are Jarod Hazzard as Tenor (Tony), Rebecca Myer as First Soprano (Sophie), Anthony Roberts as Accompanist (Manny) and Ed Peck as the Stagehand (Monotone).

 THE STORY: The play is a portrait of the opera diva told through her recollections of the glories, triumphs, and tragedies of her own life and career. Her voice is gone, her lover is long departed, and her sanity could possibly be next. All she has is a lonely itinerary of master classes and luggage packed full of the memories that are her only travel companion. Her students are the hapless targets of her sharp tongue, while she remains the picture of innocent aristocracy. Master Class shows that while the actress may have left the stage, she will never give up her audience.

 Admission is $45 per person (tax included) for a plated dinner and show.  $7.50 from every full admission will be donated to Opera Illinois League! The plated dinner will include Regina Salad with choice of house creamy citrus or balsamic vinaigrette dressing, your choice of Prime Rib au jus or Herb Crusted Salmon with twiced baked potato and spring vegetables, and Tiramisu for dessert. 

 Reservations can be made by calling The Waterhouse office at 309.494.9100 or ONLINE HERE. The doors will open at 6pm for cocktails and dinner service starting at 6:30pm. The show will begin promptly at 8:00pm.

 SUSAN SOMERVILLE (MARIA CALLAS) Peoria native Susan Somerville (aka Brown) was on the professional musical theater stage for 20 years.  In the Chicago area (1984-92), she appeared in over 40 productions including Nunsense (Amnesia), The Music Man (Marion), Dames At Sea (Ruby), Grease (Sandy), Patent Leather Shoes (Becky), and Anything Goes (Hope).     Other roles throughout the Midwest include Maria in The Sound of Music, Julie in Show Boat, and Eliza in My Fair Lady.  In 1992, Susie joined the national tour of Cats, and in 1995 was put into the Broadway Company where she was seen as Jellylorum/Griddlebone, Jennyanydots/Gumbie, and Grizabella, and was part of the final cast in 2000.  While in New York, Susie was the Director of Sunday Morning Worship at Trinity Baptist Church, and also did voice-over, commercial, television, recording, and concert work.  She moved back to Peoria in 2004 to marry her high school sweetheart Charlie Brown, and is now Director of Music at University United Methodist Church.  Susie has served as musical director for local productions including Cats, Dreamgirls, Little Women, Evita, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and – coming soon – The Drowsy Chaperone.   For Peoria Cooperative Academy she has directed and choreographed Gilbert & Sullivan’s PRINCESS IDA and THE MIKADO.  With husband Charlie she writes and assists with Prairie Folklore Theatre.   Susie also has a private voice studio, and teaches drama at Masterworks Festival and The Salvation Army’s TAM Conservatory.  She is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and a member of Actors’ Equity Association.  She dedicates this performance to her mother, Alma Somerville, a beautiful singer and Maria Callas fan.  Soli Deo Gloria!

ELISABETH RICHTER (SHARON) American Soprano Elisabeth Richter is an emerging artist of the first order with a powerful, beautiful dramatic voice and a luscious, rich tone quality. In the 2009/10 season, Ms. Richter returned to Annapolis Opera under the baton of Maestro Ron Gretz to sing the title role of Puccini’s Tosca, where in spring 2009 she had performed the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana to critical acclaim. Other recent performances include the title role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica at Opera Illinois under the baton of Maestro Kevin Class. Principal roles in Ms. Richter’s repertoire include Liù in Turandot, the Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Sarah Good in Robert Wards’ The Crucible. She has also performed the role of Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at Illinois State Opera and the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro at Bradley Opera Theater. As a recitalist, Ms. Richter has frequently performed at the Indiana University Chamber Music Festival where she has sung Mozart’s Requiem, Dominic Argento’s To be Sung Upon the Water and premiered Jeffrey Hoover’s Soul and Fire for which she was recognized as an audience favorite in 2004. In addition, she was a featured soloist with the St. Martin’s Chamber Players at Merkin Hall in New York City. Elisabeth Richter has participated as a young artist at the Utah Festival Opera, Sarasota Opera, and Opera Illinois Young Artist Ensemble. She was a five-time winner for the National Association of Teachers of Singing Award, a finalist for the Quad Cities Opera Company Competition and a Concerto Award winner at Western Illinois University. Leonora – Il Trovatore Tosca – Tosca Ellen Orford – Peter Grimes ! Aida – Aida Santuzza – Cavalleria Rusticana Soprano – Verdi’s Requiem


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