"I am a woman and a serious artist, and I want to be judged as such." So begins La Divina, with Shelley Cooper as the 20th-century opera singer Maria Callas, in an interview with an unseen Mr. Wallace. Cooper nimbly navigates the interview with the off-stage presence – never spoon-feeding the audience by restating a question, but instead giving thoughtful answers that lets the audience piece together precisely what Mr. Wallace is getting at and why Callas would be sidestepping, or more often, redirecting, his queries.
Cooper combines stories of her youth and career with pieces from operas she has performed, including "O Mio Babbino Caro," "Habanera," and "Vissi d'arte." The up-close opera singing is magical, partly because it's such an unusual treat to be that close to someone whose singing is so thrilling and beautiful. Every person in the audience was captivated by Cooper's stunning soprano.
Cooper, as Callas, talks about striving to fully embody characters on stage, and Cooper does. She captures both sides of Callas – the woman and the serious artist – with facial acting that is perfection. During her monologue, she conveys entire moods with the set of her lips, a twitch of the eyebrow, or the way she clasps her hands and adjusts her posture. When she sings, the story and emotion she conveys are complete.
"Only when I sing do I feel loved," Cooper tells the audience at the play's opening and closing. These were Maria Callas' words, and Cooper perfectly portrays the singer's complex relationships with the men in her life and her art. As she tells her story, she is assured but incomplete. She is filled with confidence and grace that are not of this world when she sings.
"La Divina: The Last Interview of Maria Callas"
Written and Performed by Shelley Cooper
Directed by Mariangela Chatzistamatiou
October 8, 2022
The 13th United Solo Festival
October 4- November 20, 2022
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
STEPHANIE EAGAN is a professional writer based in NJ. A fan of every type of live performance imaginable, from taiko drumming to political performance art, she travels the tri-state area and beyond in search of music, art, theater, and excellent coffee.