Johannes van Staden-Slabbert will be directing Menotti’s comic opera The Old Maid and the Thief at the Youngblood Gallery in November 2019. BEVERLEY BROMMERT spoke to him about the production:
Following on the heels of previous successes in the Opera in 1 Hour series, there will be another 60-minute masterpiece at the Youngblood Gallery in November, and this time it’s a comic work: Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief is being staged through a collaboration between Biblioteek Productions, AGL Opera and Youngblood Arts and Culture.
AGL Opera’s Johannes van Staden-Slabbert, a baritone/tenor of note, is entrusted with its direction, and his pleasure in the undertaking comes from his well-established familiarity with the opera – this is the second time he’s directing it, having previously done so at Stellenbosch University’s Conservatoire.
He admitted, however, that it is challenging: “It’s not easy to direct because under that surface chattiness, each of the four characters in it has his or her own motives masked by the conversation. Miss Todd (the old maid) and her domestic helper Laetitia are both starved of male company, which they crave; Bob the beggar, who comes to their residence, is seeking shelter and security; and Miss Pinkerton, the inquisitive neighbour, appears to have an agenda of her own that involves mischief…”
In a piquant reversal of the usual situation wherein females suffer abuse from males, Bob the beggar becomes the victim – and prisoner – of the women to whom he applies for help, and their power over him results in serious corruption of morality.
Both comical and thought-provoking
Van Staden-Slabbert remarked, “the most memorable line in the libretto is Bob’s assertion that ‘The devil couldn’t do what a woman can / Make a thief of an honest man’ ; it’s both comical and thought-provoking, in keeping with the spirit of Menotti’s work. That’s why we felt at AGL Opera that it’s worth staging today: it may be fun, but the themes in it are universally relevant, such as the fear of ageing without being loved, the negativity of gossip, and crime as the response to human needs. And then the music is really beautiful.”
On the latter subject, he commented that Menotti’s score is strongly influenced by Brahms and Wagner: “It’s full of suspended resolutions right up to the end, until the final C major when Miss Todd collapses in a swoon with her gin. Accompaniment to the performance will be provided by Arno Jonas on the piano, unlike the previous production in which the music was orchestrated for two pianos. The Youngblood is too small for that, being more intimate than the former venue, but that’s good, because we would like to convey a sense of intimacy as part of the fun, getting the audience involved. For example, when there is a robbery in the liquor store, the thieves enter from amongst the audience.”
He added, “The more you do this work, the more layers you find to explore, like the role of Miss Pinkerton: is she a conspirator wanting to invade Miss Todd’s house through Bob? It’s a distinct possibility, just hinted at by Menotti at the end.”
Audiences can expect an evening of quirky comedy, a risqué plot, and ear-enchanting music.
What: The Old Maid and the Thief
Where and when: Youngblood Gallery, Bree Street, Cape Town on November 22 and 23 2019, with a specially revised version for children on Saturday morning.