WATERTOWN — It’s always tricky to build a play about a real person — particularly when that person is one of the most celebrated opera singers of the 20th century. Terrence McNally’s Tony Award winner, “Master Class,” from 1995, isn’t so much about Maria Callas as it is about divahood, about the idea that being a star requires attitude as much as talent and hard work. In performance, it’s almost entirely dependent on the actress playing Callas. In the New Repertory Theatre production that’s just opened at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Amelia Broome may not channel Callas, but she masters the role.
The setup is simple: It’s the early 1970s, and Callas, nearly 50, her career over, is giving a master class in an unnamed theater. (McNally took as his starting point the classes she gave at the Juilliard School in 1971-72.) In the course of the play, which at New Rep runs 2½ hours, with one 20-minute intermission, she manages to listen to two sopranos and a tenor. “I bark, I bark quite a bit actually, but I don’t bite,” she tells the audience.