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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

DePauw Opera gets whimsical

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Orcenith Smith is giving instructions to the DePauw Opera Orchestra during a dress rehersal of "The Old Maid and the Thief," one of the two operas that the company performed. Their second opera, "L'Enfant et les Sortileges" is much more based in fantasy than the first.
GREENCASTLE -- Opera is seen as a dated, incomprehensible art form to some, but the DePauw University opera event this week was crystal clear in its approach and its voice. This past weekend, from Thursday to Sunday, the School of Music held their yearly opera event at the Moore Theater in the Green Center for Performing Arts. This time, director Keith Tonne, along with conductor Orcenith Smith, decided to perform two one-act operas as opposed to one larger one.

The operas themselves varied in both the writer and the subject matter. The group has done several Giacomo Puccini and Wolfgang Mozart operas in the past. But the first of the two operas, "The Old Maid and the Thief" by Gian Carlo Menotti, is a completely new piece to the DePauw community.

Tonne chose this particular play as a homage to Menotti -- it was the 100th anniversary of his birth as well as almost 75 years since he wrote his first opera. This opera was his second, and it was one of the first composed specifically for radio play, premiering in English on NBC's radio networks in 1939.

In this scene from "The Old Maid and the Thief" Laetitia, played by Emily Smith, and Miss Todd, played by Andrea Spencer, listen to Miss Pinkerton, played by Elleka Okerstrom, as she performs. Bob, played by Case Nafziger, sits in the background out of character.
"The Old Maid and the Thief" is about Miss Todd, a respected member of the community who lives alone with her maid Laetitia, who fears turning into her benefactor. A handsome drifter named Bob comes to their home and is warmly invited to stay, but Miss Pinkerton, Miss Todd's friend and fellow older single woman, informs Miss Todd that a thief has broken out of a nearby prison that fits the same description of Bob. Though Miss Todd wants him out of the house, Laetitia convinces her to let Bob stay, believing she can convince him to love her. To entice him, Miss Todd allows her money to be stolen, and she steals from other townspeople to keep giving Bob an allowance and alcohol. When the jig is up and Bob is confronted, he says he is not a thief and rebukes Miss Todd, who calls the police. But Laetitia convinces Bob to run away with her, taking all of Miss Todd's possessions and car on the way.

The opera was done in the style of a traditional radio play, complete with commercials and foley artists, which are the people who make the various sound effects for the radio shows. John Pierce Kraft, who narrated the opera's transitions, also put a few commercials in there as well.

"There's no breakfast better than the Lone Ranger cereal," Kraft said.

Tonne said that in old radio shows, actors would often drop out of character after leaving the microphone, and he wanted the performers to do the same and act like DePauw students from the era.

"Once you walk away, you're not in character anymore," Tonne said. "At that time, they wouldn't stay in character."

The second play was far more fantastical and was performed once before by the DePauw Opera in 2002, "L'Engant et les Sortileges" by Maurice Ravel. Translated, the title is "The Child and the Magic Spells."

This 1925 opera tells the story of a child from the 1920s that is furious because he does not want to do is homework. He destroys objects in his room in a rage, but they quickly come back to life, with some taking human shape, and go after the young boy. He escapes in the family garden, but it is only a temporary respite as the animals begin to attack him as well. But when a squirrel is injured in the fighting, the boy stops and tries to help him. The animals change their mind about the boy and help him find his mother.

Tonne said he enjoys this particular piece because of the vast number of roles that need to be filled, its whimsical nature and the amount of effort needed in the costume work, designed by Caroline Good.

With four performances total, the opera has two full casts, with one having played on Thursday and Saturday and the other on Friday and Sunday.

Tonne said he is proud of the hard work of the students, who were involved in virtually every aspect of the opera experiences from the set to the costumes, and is grateful to have such a talented cast and crew. Hopefully this old-time radio opera and its fantasy partner entertained audiences over the weekend. And if not, then like the Super Bowl, there's always the commercials.

"Isn't the weather awful," Kraft said, quoting a line used often in the opera. "Try Morton salt."

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