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Lost Nation and Monteverdi Find Inspiration in a Late Diva 

State of the Arts

Two Montpelier arts organizations facing dire financial crises last year report a sounder start to 2007. Tim Tavcar, a longtime Lost Nation Theater staffer who became the Monteverdi Music School's director last September, offers a "guardedly optimistic" assessment for both groups. "While nobody is out of the woods, the woods are at least a little less thick than they were," he notes. A key element in the survival strategy is "partnering with other organizations in the community," Tavcar says. "You've got to work together because the pool of support is limited."

What makes fiscal sense also bears fruit artistically. Tavcar's new creation, Callas on Callas - a Monteverdi/Lost Nation co-production - is making its premiere at the theater company's Winterfest next weekend. LNT artistic director Kim Bent says that collaboration has been "a major theme for Lost Nation Theater all through the years." He notes that Tavcar's long history with LNT means working with Monteverdi makes sense.

Tavcar staged Marc Blitzstein's opera Regina for Winterfest last year, while still working for Lost Nation. When Tavcar was brainstorming with his former colleagues about music-themed shows for this year's fest, a long-simmering passion re-ignited. "I've been a [Maria] Callas freak ever since I was, like, 12," he admits with a hearty laugh. Terrence McNally's much-heralded drama about the diva, Master Class, greatly disappointed him. "I thought the play didn't serve her contributions to opera well," Tavcar reflects. "It dwelt far too much on her temperament and her idiosyncrasies."

Tavcar believes Callas "revolutionized the art of opera." She dragged it from "what she called 'a beautiful singing exhibition' into the dramatic truth that it was originally intended to be when it was founded back in Florence in the 1600s," he says. To focus on her artistic significance, Tavcar fashioned a "monodrama for one actor" based on transcripts of recorded interviews and the actual Juilliard master classes. He also delved into an extensive personal archive of Callas materials.

Callas on Callas is set just before the singer embarks on her last public recital tour, at age 50. "The conceit is that she is giving a series of lecture/demonstrations," Tavcar says. She discusses her musical philosophy, but also shares her sense of loss over her vocal decline. "She's doing this, she says, as personal therapy: to remind herself of the work that needs to be done in order to serve the music, which is what she was all about," Tavcar explains. She professes the artistic credo, "The composer is God, and you serve the music."

Central Vermont actress Ellie Blachly will play Maria Callas - a genetic collaboration, Bent jokes, with East Calais' Unadilla Theater, headed up by Blachly's father Bill. Ellie Blachly is an accomplished opera singer, but in this multimedia production, the real Callas will do all the singing, via filmed clips of live performances. The late Greek goddess actually has a busy schedule this year. On February 11, she is receiving a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy award in Los Angeles. And Greece's Ministry of Culture is commemorating the 30th anniversary of her death with Maria Callas Year: 170 recitals, an international opera competition and a grand gala in Paris this September.

Back in Montpelier, Winterfest kicks off this weekend with Burlington's John Alexander as Teddy Roosevelt in Bully, February 1-4. Callas on Callas runs February 8-11. The Vagina Monologues returns February 15-18 as the festival finale, once again as a fundraiser for the Washington County Sexual Assault Crisis Team. All shows are at 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $20.

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Elisabeth Crean


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