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Classical music review: Opera Theater Oregon gives 'Old Maid and the Thief' a clever turn

Published: Sunday, October 07, 2012, 2:21 PM     Updated: Sunday, October 07, 2012, 2:26 PM
James McQuillen, Special to The Oregonian By James McQuillen, Special to The Oregonian

 

Commissioned by NBC and premiered in 1939, Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Old Maid and the Thief" was among the first operas written for broadcast, a chamber-scale piece intended for a popular audience.

In a straightforward staged revival, as it's typically presented by small companies and college programs these days, it's a quaint period trifle with modest charms -- an amusing story of small-town secrecy and mistaken identity; a couple of attractive arias; and a brisk, accessible score.

Opera Theater Oregon, the plucky, offbeat little company whose motto is "Making Opera Safe for America," has a much better idea.


Its current production, which runs through this Friday at McMenamins Mission Theater and Brewpub, combines both staging and broadcast, complete with a fictional announcer doing between-the-scenes bits for the very real KQAC (which also broadcast the show), newly composed 1930s-style jingles for the real sponsors, on-stage Foley effects and a cigarette girl -- who doesn't sell actual cigarettes -- wandering about the live audience.

It's even preceded by a clever black-and-white "newsreel" ("Behind the Velvet Curtain," by Jan Wechsler) involving the imaginary back story behind the personalities singing the roles.

All very meta, right? It is, but the irony is perfectly calibrated to enliven the production without demeaning the opera itself. Saturday night, Robert Hill's announcements, delivered in the arch tones of KQAC's fictional Wally Willamette, and Ian Timmons' intoning of Justin Ralls' jingles were sufficiently tongue-in-cheek for comic effect. But the singers -- Christine Meadows as the spinster of the title; Audrey Sackett as her housemaid and rival; Lisa Mooyman as her gossipy neighbor; and Erik Hundtoft as the handsome vagabond whose arrival sets the story in motion -- addressed their roles sincerely and in fine voice.

Erica Melton led the five-part orchestra in a tight, fast-paced performance, and production values of the set and costumes were high. It's hard to imagine an ordinary revival of the piece that could be so thoroughly entertaining.

-- James McQuillen

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Opera Theater Oregon recreates Menotti's radio opera, 'Old Maid and the Thief'
Published: Thursday, October 04, 2012, 9:43 AM     Updated: Thursday, October 04, 2012, 9:43 AM
David Stabler, The Oregonian By David Stabler, The Oregonian


Hands up, who remembers radio plays? Anybody?

Beginning in the 1920s, they were all the rage until TV took over in the 1950s. Purely acoustic creations, they relied on dialogue, music and sound effects to create drama in the minds of listeners.

Opera Theater Oregon re-creates a radio drama -- actually a radio opera -- with "The Old Maid and the Thief" by Gian Carlo Menotti, a master of small-scaled opera, including his mega-popular "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Menotti, who pioneered the use of the latest technology -- radio and TV -- for opera, wrote the one-act comedy in 1939 as a radio opera for NBC.

A woman and her servant, starved for a man, welcome a tramp into their house and hilarity ensues. The women treat the tramp royally, even stealing for him as his demands increase. At one point, the woman raids a liquor establishment to get him a drink, but the neighbors are not amused. Thinking the tramp is the one who's stealing, they summon the police. When the ungrateful tramp discovers Miss Todd has been stealing for him, he insists she go to jail for her crimes. Eventually, the tramp and the servant elope, stealing what they can from the house.

As Menotti writes in the text: "The devil couldn't do what a woman can -- make a thief out of an honest man."

Audiences and critics welcomed the downsized, personal qualities of "The Old Maid and the Thief," including the gorgeous aria, "Steal Me, Sweet Thief." The opera has remained popular ever since.

The cast for Opera Theater Oregon includes the excellent Christine Meadows as Miss Todd, Audrey Sackett as Laetitia, Erik Hundtoft as Bob and Lisa Mooyman as Miss Pinkerton.

Live sound effects and a "KQAC Radio Band" accompany the singers. KQAC is the name of Portland's classical radio station. A short, radio-themed original film will accompany performances. To add to the ambience, audiences can order 1930s drinks such as a gin fizz or a sidecar.

Ring-a-ding-ding.

-- David Stabler

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Sherwood Foundation for the Arts presents 'The Wizard of Oz'
Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 9:00 AM   

Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 9:24 AM

Dave Sweeney, Special to OregonLive.com By Dave Sweeney, Special to OregonLive.com


OK, I know, you've all seen the classic 1939 movie "Wizard of Oz". You can sing the songs, quote the dialogue and conjure up the iconic images ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow", "... and your little dog too!", the ruby slippers and the yellow brick road) ... but have you seen the live stage musical production? Well you should and you should bring the family!

July 26, 27 and 28 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) The Sherwood Foundation for the Arts is performing the stage musical "Wizard of Oz" outside, under the stars in Stella Olsen Park in Sherwood. I recently saw a run-through of the show and it is a wonderful production. Tickets are available on the website for the SFA, but if last year's show "Sound of Music" is any indication, you should get your tickets as soon as possible. Only 500 tickets will be sold and last year all shows sold out!

Sherwood's summer musical is fast becoming a very popular entertainment destination. This year marks the fourth annual musical production in the park following the initial play "Music Man", then "Secret Garden" and last years "Sound of Music". All the shows have been very well produced, acted and staged and this year continues that trend. Not only is the show performed outside in the beautiful Stella Olsen park (bring a blanket for lawn seating) but there is also an 18 piece orchestra under the direction of Mason Hartman.

Now here are just some of the reasons why you should definitely see this live production (the outdoor setting and the 18 piece orchestra are just for starters). The yellow brick road actually goes right through the orchestra and around the director (I know, cool huh). This leads to some "interesting" interactions with cast and crew. In fact there's a concrete "stage" behind the orchestra and directly in front of the audience that showcases part of the plays action. It's what you might call "up close and personal" contact (don't be surprised if the Lion ends up in your lap ... almost).

Director Kristin Heller (recent Masters graduate in Theater Arts from Portland State University), who directed "Sound of Music" last year, has once again done a marvelous job of staging this well known production. She has very creatively used the area in and around the stage and orchestra to bring the play to a very unique and three dimensional experience for the audience.

On stage there is a very large 16 by 12 foot screen that will serve as the display for all the video scenes and special effects (tornado, flying wicked witch, giant wizard head, etc.). There are also pyrotechnics and other special effects (melting witch among them) which will add to a thoroughly entertaining evening.

And the cast is terrific! You will be very impressed.

Megan Prehm as Dorothy is delightful. Now I'll admit, I'm a bit biased here as Megan played my stage daughter, Liesl von Trapp, last year in Sound of Music, but I think you'll agree she has a beautiful voice and wonderful stage presence. Micah Bevis is very impressive as the Scarecrow with an extremely malleable body and an equally impressive singing voice. Kes Rooney as the Tinman as lovable and huggable as ever. And Nathan Doyle is ... well let's see ... funny, affable, athletic, charming and totally engaging as Lion! Nathan's real-life wife Polly plays Glinda the Good Witch and sings like an angel. Matt Hammerly as the Wizard ... well, just IS the Wizard. Take a look and see if you don't agree.

And that brings us to The Wicked Witch, AKA Leslie Goyette.  SHE may just steal the show! She looks like the Wicked Witch, she acts like the Wicked Witch and OMG that cackle of a voice. She scares me and she will delight you! Add to all that 25 little munchkins and you've got a terrific evening of outdoor theater for the entire family!

Once again, Sherwood's summer musical happens outdoors in Stella Olsen park July 26, 27th and 28 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). The show runs from 7:30-10 p.m. and the gates open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets available online at SherwoodArts.org but get them soon as last years shows sold out! And have fun along "Sherwood's Yellow Brick Road"!

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'The Sound of Music' to be performed in Sherwood July 21-23
Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011, 12:34 PM    

Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 7:10 AM
Dave Sweeney, Special to OregonLive.com By Dave Sweeney, Special to OregonLive.com


Ok, show of hands here please. How many of you have seen the movie "The Sound of Music"?

How many of those hands have seen that movie more than a few times? Thought so.

Next question, how many of you have seen the musical play the Sound of Music? Not as many hands I'm guessing, but now you have a chance to change that!

Coming up Thursday, Friday and Saturday (July 21-23) the Sherwood Foundation for the Arts continues its tradition of live summer musical theater by performing the musical play (on which the movie was closely based) the Sound of Music. It's the same story (of Maria and Captain von Trapp and his children), the same songs you know and love (Sound of Music, Do-Re-Me, Climb Every Mountain, Edelweiss ... along with several 'new' ones) and the same joyful feeling generated by the movie!

The wonderful advantage of this show is that it's being performed outside in the beautiful setting of Stella Olsen Park (just north of downtown Sherwood) with full sets, full costumes and a live 20 piece orchestra. You heard me right, a live 20 piece orchestra!

But it's not just the orchestra (and the beautiful sets and costumes) that makes this production special, it's all the amazing voices you'll hear throughout the show! Voices that are guaranteed to put a song in your heart and a big smile on your face! Sherwood's Sound of Music promises to be a delightful experience for you and your entire family.
Sherwood's SOUND OF MUSIC Preview Sherwood's production of 'The Sound of Music' A description of Sherwood's musical production of "The Sound of Music" by Dave Sweeney Watch video


So, how do you get tickets? Simple. You can buy your tickets online by logging on to the website for the Sherwood Foundation for the Arts (SherwoodArts.org) or get them at the gate the night of the performances. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. each night and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Bring a blanket for lawn seating or a lawn chair for seating behind the blanket goers.

Oh, one last thing. You may recognize the man playing Captain von Trapp. He's the same guy that does the weather videos for this website (yup, that would be me). And I must tell you ... I'm having the time of my life!!! Hope to see you there!