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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)
The Old Maid and the Thief - Opera Buffa for Radio in 14 Scenes (1939)
Libretto by the composer
Miss Todd — Natalie Arduino (mezzo)
Miss Pinkerton — Lynn Parr Mock (soprano)
Laetitia — Nicole Franklin (soprano)
Bob — Blake Davidson (baritone)
Jon Morehouse (narrator)
Lone Spring Arts Orchestra/Victoria Bond
rec. Northaven United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas, 26 February 2007. DDD
Full Libretto and notes included
ALBANY RECORDS TROY990 [68:08]
Experience Classicsonline

This is Menotti’s second opera and the first in America to be written for radio. The composer felt that the opera buffa format - rather than a through-composed form - would be appropriate for radio. Additionally each scene of the opera is announced by a narrator. This production carries the idea even further by having the narrator speak in the style and even tone prevalent among radio announcers in mid-twentieth century America and by the use of “radio” sound effects rather than “stage” ones.
 
Briefly put, the opera involves Miss Todd (the Old Maid) and the efforts of herself and her maid Laetitia to keep a handsome vagrant prisoner in their home because they are lonely. Eventually Bob, the vagrant, runs off with Laetitia and Miss Todd’s silver. He has been converted from an honest man into a thief by the women’s efforts and Miss Todd is left totally bereft. Though opera buffa in form the work becomes more cynical as it progresses and leaves one with something to think about. In this regard Menotti’s ability to write both the words and the music are key, as is the (then) contemporary setting.
 
Given the early date this is not one of those Menotti operas that some people love to hate and is treated accordingly by all involved in this recording. As Miss Todd, Natalie Arduino takes a while to get to full speed, but in the last few scenes her characterization is very incisive, as is her singing. Lynn Parr Mock as Miss Pinkerton, Miss Todd’s “friend”, has less singing of her own but makes up for it in both excellent duets and acting. One of the two big arias of the opera is Laetitia’s “Steal Me Sweet Thief”. I felt Nicole Franklin could have shown both more passion and more subtlety in her rendition, although I liked some of her other work in the opera. Blake Davidson, as Bob, sings his big aria, “When the Air Sings of Summer” most expressively, although I thought his voice not quite right for this role. We cannot leave out Jon Morehouse, who must have spent hours listening to old radio tapes to perfect his rendition of a 1939 on-air announcer.
 
Like a number of Menotti’s operas The Old Maid and the Thief is scored for a chamber orchestra, unless an alternative version exists, and therein lies a problem with the recording here. It was done in the Northaven United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas, and this venue produces a good deal of shrillness from the woodwinds that is not inherent in their playing. In other ways too the engineers’ search for clarity from the voices is at the expense of the instrumental players. These players are made up of members of the Dallas Symphony and Dallas Opera Orchestra and acquit themselves admirably, providing just the right sheen needed in Menotti’s orchestra. Great credit must be given to well-known composer-conductor Victoria Bond for maintaining the appropriate pace throughout while enabling and aiding the actors to darken the mood of the piece. Her control of the players is also first-rate.
 
This production of The Old Maid and the Thief is the first release by Lone Spring Arts, a Dallas-based organization and I hope they will produce more recordings as every aspect of this one shows real attention and affection for the opera. There was a previous recording of The Old Maid and the Thief conducted by Jorge Mester in the LP days, but none since, so obviously this is the one to get.
 
William Kreindler
 

 


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