A master class in performance
This month Stephanie Beacham is coming to Cheltenham in a play about the life of legendary opera singer Maria Callas
Master Class: February 21-26
The definitive diva
Not many have the wherewithal to take on the role of opera singer Maria Callas, whose personal life was as astonishing as her beautifully rich mezzo-soprano voice. Actress Stephanie Beacham, however, not only embraces the persona completely, but puts in a performance that has stunned theatre-goers across the country.
This month we’re fortunate enough to have the talented actress bringing her Callas to Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre…
We’re looking forward to seeing your performance in Cheltenham, Stephanie. Have you performed at the Everyman before?
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No, I have never played the Everyman before and in actual fact I have only ever driven through the town. I obviously know what an elegant place it is and I am very much looking forward to exploring it. It will be a very special week for me as my cousin lives nearby and my sister and niece are both coming over from America to see the show. It is also the last week of the tour so that will be sad, saying goodbye to everyone.
What an exciting – and challenging – role it must be to play Maria Callas. Did you have to think for long before accepting the part?
To be honest I suggested the part… well, a friend put the idea of it in my head. My friend from Tenko days, Veronica Roberts, dreamt that she came to see me playing the part of Maria. At the time she was working with Jonathan Church at Chichester, and the next day she rang me and suggested I give Jonathan a call. So I did and the seeds of this production were sown. I think everyone has always thought that I bear a likeness to Callas. When I met film director Franco Zefferelli for the first time, who was a good friend of Maria’s, he said ‘My God you are Maria Callas’!
Have you and director Jonathan Church worked together before?
Yes, we have twice and both quite tricky to be honest. The first was a Fanny Burney play in the West End called A Busy Day. I played an outrageous dowager Duchess, and the second was Elizabeth Rex by Timothy Findley and I played Elizabeth I.
Were you a fan of Maria Callas’ work before you became involved in the project?
Yes, absolutely – she did for opera what David Beckham has really done for football. She made it accessible for people both to participate in and listen to. She was in the first swathe of celebrity: people, especially women, who enjoyed their career and their social life – she epitomised glamour.
Will we hear you sing on stage?
No, fortunately not! The play is inspired by the master classes Maria gave in New York in the early seventies; you get to observe the great diva in action as she puts three aspiring singers through their paces. She reminisces on the triumphs and tragedies of her life and career now that both her voice and her personal life have fallen apart. That sounds quite sad and depressing, but it is very, very funny as well as tragic.
Do you think you would have liked Maria if you had had the chance to meet her?
I think she would have been a tricky houseguest! Hugely entertaining, but very high maintenance. I love playing her and feel great empathy and love for her but living with her has been hard work.
Can you share with us a favourite line from the play?
There are a couple – ‘It’s all in the music’’ as this is the essence of the play and her, but I also love ‘These composers really know the human heart’.
Master Class, starring Stephanie Beacham as Maria Callas, is at the Everyman Theatre, 7-10 Regent Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1HQ, tel: 01242 572573, www.everymantheatre.org.uk
Performances run from February 21-26 and tickets are �11-�26, available from the box office or order online.