The Old Maid and the Thief is a twisted tale of morals and evil womanly power. Menotti writes in the libretto "The devil couldn't do what a woman can- Make a thief out of an honest man." Menotti was inspired to write the story when he visited the family of Samuel Barber (his partner). He found that what seemed to be a quaint, cute town actually covered up a plethora of secrets about people and places.
This one act opera, divided into 14 scenes, is about an old maid, Miss Todd, who is a busybody in her small town. Though she is of high standing in her community, her love life has been bare for over forty years. Her housemaid Laetitia is a young catty, eavesdropper who is wary of becoming an Old Maid like her employer. Bob, a wanderer, comes to Miss Todd's door one afternoon while the town gossip, Miss Pinkerton is visiting. Enamored of his beauty, Laetitia easily convinces Miss Todd to let him stay. Getting acquainted with each other Laetitia then convinces Bob to stay by promising him more food and accommodations without any cost.
The next day Miss Todd learns from Miss Pinkerton of an escaped convict matching Bob's description is in the area. Distressed she tells Laetitia that Bob is undoubtedly the thief and they must get rid of him. Once again, Laetitia, insinuating that Bob is in love with her, convinces Miss Todd to let him stay. Undeterred, she leaves money out for Bob to "steal". Eventually unable to continue financing Bob, she resorts to stealing from her neighbors. Meanwhile, Laetitia is falling in love with the wanderer and sings "Steal Me Sweet Thief" an aria of her love for him, asking him to steal her away before time ravages and withers her looks. Miss Pinkerton encounters Miss Todd and warns her to "Keep all the doors locked, keep all the windows closed" because the thief is in town and has stolen from the neighbors (when it is really Miss Todd who has been stealing from her neighbors.) Intending to leave the next morning Bob sings "When the Air Sings of Summer" (Bob's Bedroom Aria). To prevent him from leaving Laetitia asks him what he wants. He replies he would like to "have something to drink." Miss Todd, who, being a good prohibitionist, doesn't have any in the house and would scandalize the town if she was seen buying liquor, forms a plan with Laetitia to break into a liquor store.
The next day Miss Pinkerton visits Miss Todd at home and informs her that the liquor store has been violated and the owner attacked. A drunken Bob interrupts their conversation, singing loudly upstairs. She also says that the police are going to search every house to find the thief. Forcing Miss Pinkerton out the door, Miss Todd and Laetitia confront Bob about his true identity. Explaining the police were on their way, Miss Todd plans to run away with Bob. Bob refuses to runaway because he has done nothing wrong. Miss Todd "Is your love for me so small that you would see me in prison." Bob "Small? I don't love you at all" Miss Todd rages and leaves saying she would call the police and blame all the theft on him. Glumly, Bob and Laetitia duet on whether to stay and face the charges or leave, Laetitia winning the argument. They steal all Miss Todd's valuables including car and ride off together. Miss Todd returns to find everything stolen and collapses in grief.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast|
April 22, 1939
(Conductor: - )
|Miss Todd, Old Maid (unmarried)||Mezzo-Soprano or Contralto|
|Bob, Wanderer (or Thief)||Baritone|
|Laetitia, Miss Todd's Maid||Soprano|
|Miss Pinkerton, Miss Todd's Spinster Neighbor||Soprano|