I don’t like her!” This was my 10-year old’s pronouncement 30 minutes into Master Class, a play based on the series of master classes given by legendary opera singer Maria Callas at the Julliard School of Music in New York City in 1971 and 1972.
I must say that I agree with my daughter’s observation. Arrogant, insulting, dismissive, condescending, haughty, difficult, impatient … are but a few of the words that I could think of to describe this diva. She spoke her mind at will, and with a wave of her aristocratic hand, trampled on people’s emotions as if they were dirt under her feet. Yes, she wasn’t likeable at all.
But likeable or not, Maria Callas must have been an awesome human being. And this very quality, this essence that was Maria Callas, was brought to us by Ms. Cherie Gil with such clarity and intensity that left us reeling. That was some emotional roller coaster ride Ms. Gil made us go through.
Ms. Cherie Gil was Cherie Gil when we first met her during the press conference. But the person who came to the stage was Maria Callas, a formidable woman who, with the slightest tilt of her chin, made it clear to us that we mere mortals being graced with the presence of a goddess. From that point on, we were not seeing Ms. Gil. We had Maria Callas before us.
At the beginning, we hated her with as much fervor as her “victims”, as she called them, must have hated La Divina herself. We laughed at her wicked humor and we sat in awe as we witnessed her live her art and delve into the passion of the characters she played in the opera.
But something unexpected happened towards the end. We stopped hating Maria Callas. And this was where Ms. Gil’s acting genius came to full force. She revealed to us a Maria Callas who was just as human as we all are … she was lonely and she wanted to love and be loved just like any one of us. We cried for her as she gave up her unborn child for the love of a man who treated her with as much disdain as she treated those around her. And we held our breath as, letting go of every bit of pride she ever possessed, she begged and pleaded for him to marry her. She did not want to be alone. But it was all in vain. The love of her life chose another woman over her. We felt her pain. We felt her despair. Ms. Gil made us feel all that.
Ms. Gil as a consummate actress came to be as Maria Callas. The bratty Lavinia who hissed, “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard, copy cat!!!” to a hapless Sharon Cuneta a long time ago is a far cry from the commanding figure we saw on stage, an aristocratic woman who could cower an entire auditorium into silence with a single look.
Admittedly, that line has achieved an almost-legendary status and continues to tickle our fancy through the years. Young children, including my 10-year old daughter, can deliver it with as much venom as Ms. Cherie Gil did in the movie Bituing Walang Ningning. This is a richly-deserved honor for Ms. Gil. But it’s time to move on.
Ms. Gil shouldn’t be known as Lavinia alone for she shone even brighter as Maria Callas. Her strength as an actress has never before been laid out to an audience with as much intensity as it was in Master Class.
Forget that copy cat line. Ms. Cherie Gil has outgrown Lavinia. She is now Maria Callas, a woman, who without any shred of doubt in her being, could dismissively declare to the world: “How can I have rivals when no one can do what I can do?”
And those very same words could very well apply to Ms. Gil herself. For who, indeed, can do what Cherie Gil can do? Kudos to our favorite villainess. Keep the passion.