Natalie Cordone stars as opera icon Maria Callas in lyric theater performance

One of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century, Maria Callas was the definition of a diva: glamorous, outrageous, boisterous and surprisingly funny.

So no pressure for Natalie Cordone, who portrays the icon revered for her larger-than-life voice and personality in Lyric Theater’s production of the Tony Award-winning play “Master Class.”

“It’s a lot. I’m not going to lie. It’s an amazing show in which a lot of the blame falls on Maria’s character,” Cordone said. “Then to be able to do it with three different acting companies…and do it outdoors in what I know now is Oklahoma summer (which) extends into September, like I learned it, it’s going to be a wild ride.”

The Lyric Theater continues its 2021 season entirely outdoors from September 15 to October 15. 3 on the aquatic stage of the Myriad Botanical Gardens, where Cordone will make her Oklahoma City debut under the guidance of a longtime friend: She and Lyric production art director Michael Baron both attended Wake Forest University — albeit at times different – ​​and became friends when they made an alumni production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” together.

“She’s a beautiful, legit soprano and she’s sung opera. She’s been touring the country with symphonies,” Baron said. “She knows what it’s like to have an entire production on her shoulders, which I think is necessary to do ‘Master Class’ and play that role.”

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Opera legend Maria Callas appears in a promotional image for PBS'

Who was Maria Callas?

Although “Master Class” marks his debut at the Lyric Theater, Cordone has a long list of credits, including in the popular off-Broadway production of “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding”, performing with Orlando Shakespeare Theater and Winter Park (Florida) Play House and headlining concerts with the Colorado Symphony, Orlando Philharmonic and more.

“I knew that, in this crazy time, she would be able to put in the amount of work necessary to make the role successful,” Baron said. “I love plays about real people who kind of explore their lives and their process. … The subject of the play is what is needed to be at the top of your profession, especially artistically. , and how much of yourself you have to bring to the art form.”

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The Lyric Theater’s “Master Class” series will coincide with the 44th anniversary of Callas’ death from a heart attack on September 16, 1977 in Paris. Although she was only 53 when she died, Callas is remembered as one of the most remarkable operatic sopranos of her generation, known for her roles in ‘Tosca’, ‘Madea’, “La traviata” and more. Born in New York in 1923 to Greek immigrant parents, she survived an unhappy childhood, a difficult reputation as an artist and a scandalous love affair with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis – who eventually left the singer for Jacqueline Kennedy – to remain one of the most famous performers in opera. famous stars even decades after his death.

“There are things you gain and things you lose by becoming the best in your field, but it’s certainly inspirational. And it’s a reminder to our audience of how much hard work it takes to create a live performance,” Baron said. “She’s not a tragic figure. I think she’s actually quite funny. … She’s definitely someone to admire, as an artist, for her work ethic, for her concern for the detail and the importance of knowing where your performance comes from, the artists before you who created it and where you stand in this lineage.”

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Acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally based “Master Class” on the actual masterclasses Callas gave at Juilliard in the 1970s, near the end of his life. The diva is alternately impressed and appalled by the students who perform excerpts from famous operas for her, leading her to reflect on the experiences of her legendary life and career. Zoe Caldwell won a Tony for portraying Callas in the 1995 Broadway production, Audra McDonald also won for her performance as Callas’ student.

“She lived a life…that was larger than life in every possible way. She came out of extreme poverty and lived through (World War II) and everything that came with the occupation of the Greece during the war and had a very tumultuous relationship with her mother,” Cordone said. time, it kind of drove her in this infuriating way.”

Natalie Cordone stars as opera icon Maria Callas and Ánh-Mai Kearney stars as Sophie De Palma in the Lyric Theater's production of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play

Why is the show well suited?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lyric Theater is presenting all of its 2021 shows outdoors and encourage the public to wear masks and observe social distancing.

“For the fall at Myriad Gardens, I watched plays and musicals that would fit well in the gardens, which are quite a public space but also a very large enough space because your backdrop is the city and Devon Tower,” Baron said. “This one particularly stood out for the Myriad Gardens because of the operatic element.”

The production of Lyric will feature three different sets of actors playing Callas’ students, meaning Cordone will have different co-stars each week of the run.

“It’s going to be a totally different experience, I think, just because it’s such an intense show – it’s funny, but it also deals with some pretty intense themes – and doing it with ducks quacking and cars going by in the distance and that sort of thing, it’s going to pose some interesting challenges,” Cordone said.

“It’s a huge honor that Michael thought I was up to everything he threw at me. That’s how I take it.”

“Master Class” will feature the actors performing excerpts from beloved operas by Verdi, Puccini and Bellini.

“If you’re a fan of the arts, it’s a great show, especially in this strange world we live in right now, where we’ve been alienated from the arts for the last year and a half in a way that no of us expected it,” Cordone said. “To be able to immerse yourself in it, especially going to a live performance where you can see someone grappling with their own artistic journey, I think is fascinating.”

Natalie Cordone stars as opera icon Maria Callas and Christopher Richie stars as Anthony Candolini in the Lyric Theater production of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play

Lyric Theater Master Class

When: Sept. 15-Oct. 3.

Or: Myriad Gardens Water Stage, 301 W Reno Ave.

Tickets and information: or 405-524-9312.