By Gian Carlo Menotti
For Fringe World 2014
Musical director Lochlan Brown
Director Kathryn Osborne
Set and Costume design Philippa Nilant and Sally Phipps
With Nola Formentin, Michael Heap, Jenna Robertson and Alexandra Bak
Perth Town Hall
Until February 22
I’m no opera buff. I went to the splendid Perth Town Hall for Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief mainly to see how Kathryn Osborne, one of our best young theatre directors, would approach her opera debut.
The answer is very well. And that’s only one of the pleasures of this fun tale of lust and larceny in small-town, early 20th century America.
It’s the story of Miss Todd (Nola Formentin), her nefarious maid, Laetitia, (Jenna Robertson), and their competing desires for Bob (Michael Heap), a virtuous drifter they mistakenly believe is a notorious prison escapee.
It has wonderful comedy, some gleefully old-fashioned American moralising, a sting in its tail and a couple of killer arias: Laetitia’s “Steal me, Sweet Thief” and Bob’s “When the Air Sings of Summer”.
There’s also lots of that sung dialogue I should appreciate better, but enjoyed nevertheless.
Menotti wrote this for radio, and its one-hour duration and episodic structure were perfect for the medium.
Osborne has approached its origins with gusto, giving it the feel of an early talkie. It looks like one too, courtesy of an inspired and stylish retro design by Philippa Nilant and Sally Phipps.
The musical director, Lochlan Brown, accompanies the singers with great energy and skill, and they are, without exception, marvellous.
Heap makes a suitably manly Bob, with a handsome baritone to match, and Robertson’s bad-to-the-bone Laetitia ticks all the boxes. Good, too, is Alexandra Bak as the mischief-making neighbour, Mrs Pinkerton.
But best is Formentin as the self-deluded Miss Todd. She possesses wonderful comedy in her voice and acting (think Hyacinth Bucket; think the Marx Brothers’ Mrs Claypool); she can make a face that would sink a thousand ships, but can vamp it up on demand as well.
This might be unusual Fringe fare, but it’s worth every nickel. Catch it if you can.