Opera might not be something the typical college student is interested in, but if you weren’t at one of the performances of The Old Maid and the Thief put on by the Point Loma Opera Theatre this past week, you missed out.
I was one of approximately 40 audience members in Crill Performance Hall at 7:30 p.m. this past Tuesday. Having never been to a PLOT performance before, the cast of merely four singers caught me by surprise, but the surprise I felt at how much I could enjoy an evening of opera was even greater.
The performance began with freshman Vocal Performance majors Margaret Pettit (playing the role of Miss Todd) and Megan Schulze (performing as Miss Pinkerton) standing beside each other as hosts, while stage director Jordan Miller narrated and added sound effects.
Then the singing began, and I realized that Opera and I must have simply misunderstood each other for all these years, because I was quickly entranced with the soprano vocals of Schulze and mesmerized by the Mezzo Soprano vocals of Pettit.
The two women sang conversationally about the weather, before moving on to the topic of men who had ruined their lives. Though my response to such conversations would ordinarily be to feign sudden deafness, the beautiful harmonies with which these women bemoaned their losses only made me want to hear more.
As the opera went on, the comedic aspect of the performance became evident. A knock at the door from a handsome young man, referred to only as “Bob” and played by PLNU alum Jack French, resulted in an excitable Miss Todd and a change in music as the hope for a new romance sprang up.
Miss Todd and her maid Laetitia, played by senior McKenna Slack, both fell for the attractive new stranger. Cue a full scene of the women fawning over Bob with harmonious wailings of “What a beautiful name!” and the audience laughing loudly in reception to the stereotypical display of single women falling in love with the same man.
The plot soon revealed that a murderer and thief from a nearby county had escaped and may be somewhere in the characters’ town. Miss Todd and Laetitia believed Bob to be this escaped convict, and yet somehow it was Miss Todd and Laetitia who began stealing from everyone in the town to keep Bob living in their home under the guise of being Miss Todd’s sick cousin “Steve.”
Their justification for wanting to keep a supposed murderer around?
“It’s better to be killed by a man than to live and die without one,” sang Laetitia, prompting laughter from the audience.
Miss Todd and Laetitia went so far as to break into a liquor store and steal alcohol for Bob, a venture during which the characters break the fourth wall by acknowledging the opera’s pianist, Melva Morrison, a PLNU alum.
“I hear something!” said Miss Todd as she and Laetitia were about to break the window of the liquor store.
“It’s just the orchestration!” said Laetitia.
“No it’s not!”
“Yes, is!” The character of Laetitia wore an exasperated expression as she gestured bluntly to Morrison at the piano.
The character of Miss Pinkerton spent much of her time on stage popping into the home of Miss Todd to update her on the newest developments regarding the convict. Schulze’s portrayal of Miss Pinkerton as energetic, nosy and, in Schulze’s words, “really crazy,” added a comedic tension to the plot as she continuously barged into Miss Todd’s home at the most inopportune moments to nearly discover Bob.
Schulze says that her greatest challenge performing in The Old Maid and the Thief was fully getting into the character of the “chaotic and dramatic Miss Pinkerton,” a struggle she overcame when she stopped caring about what she looked like.
“I didn’t let self-consciousness or embarrassment get in the way and I committed to every action I did and every note I sang,” says Schulze via email.
The opera began wrapping itself up when Bob dropped this bombshell: He is not the escaped murderer and thief.
This development ironically leaves Miss Todd to take the responsibility for her actions while the wrongfully-assumed convict is blameless of any wrongdoing. The plot climaxed when Bob tactlessly announced that he does not love Miss Todd at all, causing her to become vengeful and leave to find the police and blame all of her crimes on Bob.
In a prime example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Bob became a thief, along with Laetitia, and the two characters stole everything they could from Miss Todd and ran away together.
The play ended with Miss Pinkerton finding Miss Todd sitting alone in her empty house, robbed of essentially all her belongings, and Miss Pinkerton laughing unsympathetically at the fate Miss Todd had brought upon herself.
According to Pettit, it took her a while to fully get into the character of Miss Todd, but she was pleased with how the opera turned out in the end.
“It really was a great experience! I’m so glad I was able to work with this cast because everyone really was amazing,” says Pettit.
The overall audience seemed inclined to agree with her, as laughter filled the performance hall during humorous exchanges between characters and awed silence followed each extended solo, broken only a few times by one or two audience members’ brief and hesitant clapping, unsure of proper opera etiquette.