A one-act opera about an aging spinster and her maid, their inquisitive neighbor and a mysterious, eligible bachelor who has recently come to town—what’s not to like?
Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti originally wrote The Old Maid and the Thief to be performed on radio. The opera premiered in 1939 and first hit the stage in 1941.
This semester’s Drama in Singing class brings the University its own production of the comic opera, directed by Dr. Bill McCauley of the voice faculty.
The class will give three performances in Stratton Hall: Tuesday at 4 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m.
The tale unfolds in small-town America during the late 1930s and takes place over the course of about a week and a half.
Dr. McCauley said he had to cast the opera, which has only four characters, in a way to give all nine students in the class a chance to act. So most of the cast members will take turns alternating roles between the three performances.
Senior voice performance major Ethan Simpson plays Bob the vagabond in all three performances. He said the cast members watch and learn as they take turns rehearsing, so working with more than one person filling the same role hasn’t been too challenging.
The story begins with Miss Todd—the “Old Maid”—living with her maid Laetitia, explained senior voice performance major Stephany Waycaster, who plays the nosy neighbor Miss Pinkerton. “[She] is a young woman who is not married and desperately wants to be,” Waycaster said.
Then Bob arrives. He knocks on Miss Todd’s door, and the women take him in. “Both of them fall in love with him, and there’s lots of comedy within that,” said Hope Lawson, a senior voice performance major who also plays Miss Pinkerton.
The twist in the plot comes when Miss Pinkerton rushes over to Miss Todd’s house to report that a convict escaped from prison in a nearby town.
What if the vagabond living with them is the convict? The audience tries to figure out who the thief is throughout the story, Lawson said.
Although Bob is not the thief, Miss Todd suspects he is and begins stealing money from neighbors—even the church—to appease and woo him.
“I feel like the irony in the story is what makes it funny,” Simpson said.
After all, Miss Todd becomes a thief to please an innocent man. She threatens to expose him as someone else if he won’t elope with her. The real criminal never even enters the story, but Bob in turn becomes a thief.
“He says, ‘If I’m going to get blamed for [her robberies], I’m going to steal everything she’s got,’” Dr. McCauley said. “So he runs off with everything in the house and her car and her maid, and they run off together.”
Even if you’re not an opera fanatic, The Old Maid and the Thief shows promise of a good time. It runs just slightly over one hour.
“It’s not your typical opera,” Lawson said. “It’s in English [as opposed to the usual Italian], which is another reason people should come.”
“It’s hilarious,” Dr. McCauley said. “Although it has beautiful music in it, it’s very entertaining.”