Muggleton takes on the big role of operatic diva Maria Callas in Master Class

WELL known Australian actor Amanda Muggleton is used to playing strong women who have made their mark in history. She pulled out all stops for the role of famous opera singer Maria Callas in a brand-new production of Master Class opening in Perth next month.

“I have always played strong women which I am so lucky to do,” says Muggleton speaking by phone from the Blue Mountains in NSW which she is visiting with a Perth friend on her day off.

“I’m in another show at present, Lip Service, which is about the legendary Helena Rubinstein who was Australia’s first millionairess and who revolutionised women’s makeup. The other strong woman I have done is Diana Vreeland, the original Devil Wears Prada, the predecessor to Anna Wintour, the Vogue and Harpers Bazaar editor.”

Muggleton has visited Perth on many occasions, a few years ago appearing in The
Book Club when she displayed her best ‘the show must go on’ style, acting in an orthopaedic boot after breaking her foot.

“The audience thought it was part of the show,” she chuckles. She took The Book Club to the Kings Head Theatre in London this year where it was a big hit, Muggleton being voted Best Actress in an Independent Theatre.

But back to Master Class as Muggleton explains: “Adam Spreadbury-Maher is Kings Head Theatre’s artistic director who, after seeing The Book Club, went to the producer Andrew Kay and said, ‘I really want to work with this actress’.

“Andrew was one of the producers when I played Maria Callas before and he told Adam: ‘If you think she is good in The Book Club wait till you see her in Master Class.’”

“Spreadbury-Maher is a nut case for opera and stages operas known as pocket operas at Kings Head, he has big hits with them and people can’t get a seat. When he heard I had done Master Class he wanted to direct it and so that’s what we are doing with a national tour.”

The original Master Class was a costly Sydney Theatre Company production but this time round it is more intimate with Muggleton almost standing and sitting next to the audience as she teaches students as Maria Callas.

After a sensational career that saw her become the undisputed star of the world’s greatest opera houses, Callas takes centre-stage one more time as she passes on to her students and the audience the experiences and lessons of a life-time. There is passion and commitment and the uniqueness of a great talent as she cajoles and lecture her students, delivering wisdom and insults in true diva style.

Muggleton has immersed herself completely in the role of Callas, having studied a box full of DVDs and books on the famous woman who, rather unfairly, is often remembered as the girlfriend of Aristotle Onassis and not for her superb operatic career.

“She did have a brilliant career, ironically had a sister named Jackie (Onassis of course married widow Jackie Kennedy),” Muggleton says. “Her mother was a bit of a bully and didn’t want to leave Greece but dragged the family to New York where Callas was born.

“One thing I have learnt about Callas is she was a chameleon who spoke beautiful Italian like the natives, wonderful French and amazing English. Depending on who was interviewing her she could adopt the country’s accent. The accent I use is quite extraordinary as Callas takes a smidgin from all these accents.”

Callas became extremely insecure after Onassis dropped her for Jackie Kennedy and she lost all her confidence. Leading up to that other singers hated her because she would never hold back in rehearsal where she would sing full voice. She did it because she believed that unless conductors heard her this way they would not know how to conduct her.

“Callas really wrote the book on how to perform opera. Until she arrived, singers were extremely wooden on stage while she would think nothing of throwing herself to the floor when she played Tosca, begging for her lover’s life. She was the first opera singer to weep because music would affect her so much.”

Apart from her dramatic makeup for Master Class, blonde Muggleton transforms herself with a specially made black wig which she also wears as Helena Rubinstein in Lip
Service. The popular actor is booked to perform until mid next year.

With such a busy life and hopes that Master Class may be taken to Britain next year, Muggleton tries to keep fit and healthy. Her tips for ageing gracefully: “Keep the body moving in any way, shape or form and if you do this you can drink and eat what you want. It also keeps the brain active. None of us are getting any younger and I notice various aches and pains but I’m not going to let it beat me.”

Muggleton cites her London based father Charles (92), as a wonderful example of being sprightly and sparkly-eyed, walking everywhere. He has been to Perth on several occasions to see his daughter perform and she has a photo of him on Cottesloe beach, but these days he prefers to remain closer to home.

Amanda Muggleton performs in Master Class at Subiaco Theatre Centre from 16 November to 2 December. Tickets on sale at Ticketek.