More than 30 years after her death, soprano Maria Callas remains the benchmark for interpretive intensity and insight in opera. That's one reason why Terrence McNally's first Callas-centric play, "The Lisbon Traviata," has retained such potency since its 1985 premiere. The other reason for this comic-tragic work's success, of course, is that it's just so entertaining, a point reaffirmed by the Kennedy Center's handsome new production -- one of three operatically attuned plays by McNally being presented at the center.
Sure, there are some contrived, awkward turns in the plot (the finale, with its heavy-handed resonance of Bizet's "Carmen," threatens to turn into camp horror). But reservations are swept aside by this tight, sensitive staging.
The well-knit cast, directed by Christopher Ashley, features a knock-out performance by John Glover as Mendy, the ultimate opera queen, desperate for the latest pirate recording of his beloved Maria. Glover does flamboyance fabulously, but in such a natural manner as to create a three-dimensional and endearing, not just amusing, character. The actor's delivery of the why-I-love-Callas monologue over the phone (McNally's writing at its best) achieves remarkable eloquence.