Despite the accessibility of Menotti's music, it's notoriously difficult to perform well; it requires a conductor with sensitivity to the rhythmic fluidity that the composer's music needs to be fully effective. There's no lack of mediocre performances of Menotti operas; there have been few conductors with the affinity for the composer's style that Thomas Schippers demonstrated in his recordings of Amahl and The Saint of Bleeker Street. Conductor Victoria Bond is acutely attuned to Menotti's style, and while The Old Maid and the Thief is not generally counted among the composer's strongest scores, this recording is easily one of the most compelling recorded performances of his works. Bond draws a superbly crisp and lively performance from the Lone Spring Arts Orchestra, made up of players from the Dallas Symphony and the Dallas Opera Orchestra. The Old Maid may not have the effervescence of its predecessor, Amelia al Ballo, but this sparkling reading makes it sound nearly as engaging. The humor and eccentricity of the Albany recording is intensified by the decision to include the narration from the original 1939 NBC radio production. (The opera was the first written especially for radio broadcast.) The dated-sounding narration and the generous use of the kind of sound effects that were part of every radio drama of the era create moments of hilarity that aren't possible when the work is presented on-stage; this recording proves that an opera conceived as a purely aural experience may indeed be most effective when performed according to the composer's intentions. The singers may not be world-class soloists, but they are fully up to the score's vocal demands, and most importantly, they have a fine sense of comic timing and of the absurd, so that the opera's humor, which can come across as stilted in mediocre productions, sounds zany and spontaneous here. This splendid release should be a treasure to Menotti's fans, and its charms might even convert some skeptics. One can hope that it will set a standard for recordings of other Menotti operas in need of first-rate modern performances, particularly Amelia al Ballo, The Saint of Bleeker Street, and Maria Golovin.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|The Old Maid and the Thief, opera|