Cherie Gil in Master Class is sort of like Alfred Molina in the Broadway play Red, or Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. You’d hate to be in Eddie Redmayne’s or Anne Hathaway’s shoes.
After catching the preview night of Philippine Opera Company’s Master Class many weeks ago, those were literally the only thoughts running through my head with each goose bump, art lesson, and tear that ran down my cheek. “Cherie Gil, who are you?”
A magnum opus in its own right, this marks the nth inception of POC’s Master Class starring the TV, film and stage diva, which has merited standing ovation upon standing ovation for its lead actress’ haunting portrayal of opera diva Maria Callas at a time when she was giving a series of master classes at the Juilliard school of music in the 1970s.
Gil is widely known for her kontrabida performances. I mean who can forget the “second-rate, trying-hard, copycat” bit that has immortalized her in the annals of showbiz and pop-cultural history? The role of Maria Callas seemed to fit Cherie like a glove. And was she good at it. Damn good, as, in the course of the two-act show and under the guidance of director Michael Williams, she becomes a lovable caricature of someone who you’d very much love to hate but in that she’s so unbelievably bitchy, quirky, and convincingly caught up in her own world, you end up loving her instead.
She’s sort of like Alfred Molina in the Broadway play Red, or Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. You’d hate to be in Eddie Redmayne’s or Anne Hathaway’s shoes or in the case of Master Class, the shoes of her students played by the likes of the slapstick Juan Alberto Gaerlan, the haunting Florence Aguilar, and the riotous Ana Feleo. But given the chance to learn under the tutelage of one of the greatest women ever to grace the opera circuit, you’d bravely grab yourself in the balls and enter the lion’s den. All you really have is the moment — and it’s up to you, as a student of life, to seize it.
Sitting towards the front row of the intimate RCBC Theater, that is exactly how I felt — like I was inside the lion’s den waiting to be devoured. But there I was, ready to seize the opportunity that had been robbed of me all those times I never bothered to catch POC’s Master Class before.
Being a theater and art aficionado myself, I found myself, not only transfixed with Cherie’s soaring and beautifully engaging performance, and mesmerized by her eyes that watered with painstaking conviction every time she took to a soliloquy while her students barreled through the last ounces of their arias, but taking down notes as well, as though I was in an actual class and she had been my teacher. I was getting schooled, literally. And I found myself getting a master class of my own, though probably not on the astounding operatic technicality that Feleo and her contemporaries had shown after being shattered and sundered by Cherie’s religious monstrosity then being asked to sing with all honesty and truth right after, but the theatricality of it — the very essence of life.
“Don’t act, just be!” “When you stop, it’s class. When you quit, it’s depressing.” “A performance is a struggle. You have to win!” “An entrance is everything. That’s how we present ourselves to an audience. That’s how we present ourselves in life.” “Art is about transition. There is entrance. There is exit.” “There are no shortcuts in art.” Her rhetoric was running through my head and somehow made its way to my notebook as I was taking down notes for this piece. Somehow, I learned more about life in two hours than I would in years — a triumph in itself for POC’s Master Class.
Though at some point, I just couldn’t keep up with Callas. anymore. I closed my notebook, in the same way that Florence had forgotten to take down notes from her fiery interactions with Callas, and instead, sat back, breathed, seized the moment, and watched in astonishment. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There was no fluff. And there certainly were no traces of Cherie Gil. Fierce. Oppressive. Pedantic. Cruel. Self-Absorbed. Mind-blowing. Ambitious. And never to be defeated. There was only Maria Callas. Bravo!