Sweet treats: Witty music weaves mystery

In 1939, Gian Carlo Menotti received a commission from the National Broadcasting Company to write the first opera specifically composed for a radio listening audience. The result was the one-act operatic comedy The Old Maid and the Thief.
"Today's younger audience has probably never attended a live radio broadcast and seen what may have been going on while the actors were weaving their spell," says Edmund Najera, artistic director of the Opera Society, who will stage the piece this weekend as one of two short operas in the organization's second annual "Opera and Dessert" production.
The plot centers on Miss Todd, the old maid, and her young housekeeper, Laetitia. One day a very young, very handsome beggar named Bob appears at their door. Because of the inclement weather, they invite him to spend the night and discover they both like the idea of having a man living in the house. Shenanigans abound as the two women contrive to maintain Bob's interest in prolonging his sojourn.
The plot thickens when Miss Pinkerton, the proverbially nosy neighbor, visits with news of an escaped convict who is a thief and a murderer. Everyone wants to discover if Bob is, in fact, the escapee.
"The comic situation of the plot gives Menotti an opportunity to compose some of his wittiest music. He masterfully balances sections of breathtaking speed with arias of beauty and poignancy," Najera says.
Christine Magne, who has sung with the Opera Society since its inception, tackles the role of Miss Todd; Kris Martin-Baker, whom audiences may remember from the New Lyric Theater's Pirates of Penzance, plays Laetitia. Charlottesville favorite Phyllis Koch-Sheras sings the role of Miss Pinkerton, and Edmund Najera makes a rare appearance as Bob.
Robert Miller takes on the announcing duties and covers the sound effects; Gal Pataky is accompanist for the production.
The evening's entertainment begins with "Mezzo Blues," performed by Valerie L'Herrou, Lisa Hilgartner, and Wendy Novicoff. In this piece by jazz pianist Dick Thompson, a trio of mezzo sopranos laments the fact that they rarely get to sing the high notes in opera.
During the intermission, a selection of desserts and coffee will be served. "Join us for this unique evening of entertainment," says Shelley Lee Cole, a member of the Society.

The Old Maid and the Thief plays Saturday, March 8, at 8pm, and Sunday, March 9, at 3pm. Municipal Arts Center, 1119 Fifth St. SW. $10-15. 296-2238.