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‘Old Maid and the Thief’ marks Fine Arts’ return

Photo by Mitchell Lierman Miss Pinkerton (Hannah Peterson) shows Mrs. Todd the criminal’s likeness in the newspaper.

The Department of Music, Theatre and Dance in conjunction with 91.1 KLPR broadcast a production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Old Maid and the Thief” over the weekend. The radio opera marked the first of its kind produced by the department, as well as the first production since last spring.

The production was promoted as “an opera in the time of COVID.”

“When everything closed down last spring, we knew we’d have to be careful because of COVID in terms of how we did things,” said Anne Foradori, the professor of the Opera Workshop class that put on the show. “I began to think, maybe this is the time to do this show as it was originally conceived as a radio broadcast, so they could socially distance when we’re doing it. And so the cast has practiced the whole time in masks and [performed] in masks.”

“The Old Maid and the Thief” is among one of the earliest operas written with radio in mind. The production was synchronously livestreamed on the UNK Arts YouTube channel as well as broadcast over the radio by 91.1 KLPR.

Health guidelines posed a challenge to the rehearsal process at first.

“I couldn’t see my actors’ faces, and they couldn’t see mine so I was like ‘What is this world that I’m in?’” said Janice Fronczak, an acting professor and the show’s co-director. “Slowly but surely, a new normal started taking place.” 

The masks proved to be a challenge, especially as performers sang the production live. Many times the performers had to catch their masks as they began to slip mid-phrase.

The opera includes four acting roles portrayed by Cassie Brown, Terran Homburg, Hannah Petersen and Maximus Woehler, all members of the opera workshop class. Outside of the class, the talents of Bryce Emde for foley effects and William Frederick as the production’s radio announcer were tapped to help bring the libretto to life.

Frederick, in his final semester, was approached early on by the show’s co-director.

“What we did was we took the announcer part that was written by the composer, and Will and I got together and bumped it up,” Fronczak said. “I didn’t audition. I just cast Will because I had heard his announcer voice and I knew he could do it.”

The opera proved to be challenging even beyond the limitations made necessary by the pandemic. 

“With Miss Todd, there’s just so much there,” said senior Terran Homberg, a senior who began the rehearsal process in quarantine. “Miss Todd goes through quite a character journey in this opera, and just the wide range of emotions that I get to portray- that’s reflected in Menotti’s writing in her singing range. She has some low lows and she has some high highs.”

The students began rehearsing the opera early in the school year, with Emde and Frederick joining later.

“It’s been beautiful hearing them singing like angels as they got to know the music, and they connected and got the beats,” Fronczak said. “ They started really acting the opera. It’s just been mind blowing.”

The opera provided an opportunity for the department to explore new avenues in connecting art to an audience.

“A lot of the talk was about, ‘How are we going to make opera live and viable for people when we have to social distance?’” Foradori said. “The students involved- it’s been great because they’ve risen to the challenge of doing this. We’re trying to find a creative way to make the arts available to people and still make it safe for students.”

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