Los Angeles News

News for September/October 2021:


Shelley Cooper makes us believe she is Maria Callas in LA DIVINA, her one-woman show about the legendary opera singer. That’s no small feat, as Callas was a prodigious force on stage, not only as singer but actress. Fortunately, Cooper excels in both of those departments, having appeared previously in such musical-theatre roles as “South Pacific,” “The Barber of Seville” and “Sweeney Todd,” to name but a few. She has also worked as a director/choreographer. Above all, she has the looks, presence and power to dare impersonate Callas, whose personal life was every bit as controversial and stormy as her professional life.

Cooper recently brought LA DIVINA–-THE LAST INTERVIEW OF MARIA CALLAS to the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival, after having presented it at the Orlando Fringe Festival, where she won the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Individual Performance in Drama.

Cooper, working on a near-bare stage, clad in black dress and pearls, portrays Callas near the end of her life, giving an interview to the unseen TV journalist Mike Wallace. The latter, a provocateur, kept trying to get her to talk about her marriage to the Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis, who dumped her for Jackie Kennedy. Callas rises above Wallace’s prurience by reminding him that she was above all a serious artist, dedicated to her craft.

Proud of the fact that she was a prima donna–-literally, a first singer–-she proves it by sometimes bursting into song. The excerpts were drawn from her operatic repertoire: arias by Puccini, Verdi and Bizet. Cooper delivers these with much urgency and beauty, turning LA DIVINA into something of a mini-recital.

The personal details referenced by Cooper include Callas’ difficult childhood in Nazi-occupied Athens, her equally contentious relationship with her over-bearing mother, and her marriage as a teenager to her Italian manager. When Onassis entered her life, he persuaded her to leave her husband, only to treat her coldly once they were married. A man who hated opera, Onassis forced her to give up her career, something she did for a decade, returning to the stage only after he hooked up with Jackie Kennedy.

Cooper gives us a Maria Callas at the end of her life (she died in 1987), when she is looking back on it and weighing it up, the good and the bad. Although she acknowledges her mistakes and rues the wasted years with Onassis, she refuses to ask for our pity and declines to badmouth Onassis and/or Kennedy. She stands tall, proud and alone, every bit the prima donna, “the divine one.”


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