Here is Part 4 of a series of interviews with the director, producer, and cast of Reston Community Players’ production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class. Meet Molly Pinson Simoneau.
Maria Callas, one of the most famous opera divas of all time, is teaching a master class in front of a live audience at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage from January 15-30, 2016.
Glamorous, commanding, larger than life, caustic, and surprisingly drop-dead funny, Maria is alternately dismayed and impressed by the three students who bravely enter the music studio at Juilliard, hoping for a gram of inspiration from the famed soprano. Maria frequently retreats into recollections of her own life and triumphs at La Scala with searing monologues about the unforgiving press, her affair with Aristotle Onassis, and her sacrifice taken in the name of art.
Diane Jackson Schnoor: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Diane Jackson Schnoor: Introduce yourself to our readers.
Molly: My name is Molly Pinson Simoneau and I will be playing the role of Sharon in Master Class. This is my first capital-P Play since high school, since I have been primarily focused on opera for the last decade or so. In addition to singing, I also do a bit of writing, including writing theater and opera reviews for Washington City Paper.
What drew you to Master Class?
When I heard that RCP was doing Master Class, I was familiar with the play, but I’d never read or seen it. I knew that one of the characters sings an aria from Verdi’s Macbeth. It’s a piece that I was dying to perform, but I knew I wouldn’t have many opportunities to sing it in the context of the opera, especially at my age. The music is extraordinarily difficult, but it was a challenge I couldn’t resist!
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character? What do you like most about your character? What do you like least about your character?
Sharon is a lot like me in many ways. We’re both young, ambitious singers, eager for any shot at a professional opera career. And we both take our work very seriously, to the point of becoming pretty emotional about it at times. I like Sharon because she’s bold. There’s a moment in the play where she almost decides to give up and leave but then she comes back because she knows that singing for Maria Callas is an opportunity she can’t let get away from her.
What I don’t like about Sharon is that she has this sense of entitlement. She sort of feels like she’s done a certain amount of work, and that because of that, she deserves to get the kind of opera career that she wants. But the world doesn’t work like that.
What is your favorite line in the show (yours or somebody else’s) and why?
The funny thing about working on a play like Master Class is that the play actually is a master class. So my favorite line is one that has taught me a lot about performing opera and that is when Maria says to Sharon, “Listen to the music. Don’t act. Listen.”
What advice and suggestions has the director given you that you have found most helpful as you prepare for your role?
Most of what I’m used to doing is in the context of opera, where all your dialogue is sung, so everything you “say” is said in a specific moment, in a specific way. In a way, there are a lot more choices to make in a play. Rosemary has taught me a lot about pacing myself, and about how to use different emotional extremes to build an arc so that everything isn’t just at fortissimo all the time.
What is your favorite scene in Master Class that you are not in and why?
Maria’s soliloquys are my favorite. They basically tell her whole life story, which was pretty operatic in and of itself. And Lisa is doing amazing work with them.
I’m just in awe of Lisa Anne Bailey, who is playing Maria. From the first read-through, you could see just how hard she was working, how much research she had done on Callas, and just how much experience and expertise she has as an actress. She’s a perfectionist, and she’s constantly checking to make sure that this Italian phrase is right, and she won’t settle for anything less than the best possible performance. And I think that, as a result, the rest of the cast is rising to her level.
What makes Master Class special or unique?
In a way, Master Class is a biopic, but also it’s a treatise on what it is to be an artist. It’s an exploration of what it takes to succeed in a world where there are so many thousands of people who want to be opera singers, or actors, or writers, or painters. How do you rise above? Is it something that is learned or innate?
What is the most frightening or daunting thing about presenting Master Class?
The aria I sing in Master Class is easily the most difficult music I’ve ever sung. It’s like doing gymnastics, where, if you don’t make every move with exact precision, you will land flat on your face. And I have to sing it in front of Maria Callas!
What do you hope audiences take away from seeing Master Class?
I’m an evangelist for opera. So I hope that people who aren’t necessarily familiar with opera, or with Maria Callas, will see Master Class and be inspired to go home and look up Callas’ recordings or buy a ticket to the opera. Opera is such an exciting art form, and Callas was arguably the best singer of the 20th century. So I’m just happy to share my obsession with everyone.
Master Class plays from January 15-30, 2016 at Reston Community Players performing at CenterStage at the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 476-4500, then press 3 for the 24-hour ticket ordering system, or purchase them online.
CenterStage is handicap accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired.
Meet the Cast, Director, and Producer of Reston Community Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 1: Director Rosemary Hartman and Producer Kate Keifer.
Meet the Cast of Reston Community Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 2: Lisa Anne Bailey.
Meet the Cast of Reston Communty Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 4: Molly Pinson Simoneau.