Opera Main Stage presents 'Old Maid & The Thief' and 'Trial By Jury'

  • Wheaton College Conservatory of Music presents Opera MainStage: "The Old Maid & The Thief" and "Trial By Jury" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-15.

    Wheaton College Conservatory of Music presents Opera MainStage: "The Old Maid & The Thief" and "Trial By Jury" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-15. Courtesy of Natalia Dagenhart

Updated 1/14/2022 6:10 PM

I found a real gem in one of the western suburbs of Chicago. If you live in Wheaton or close to it, you are a lucky person.

Wheaton College Conservatory of Music is there for you to satisfy your musical and aesthetical needs and wishes. The students from the Opera MainStage course lit up my cold January evening by presenting Two One-Act Operas: "The Old Maid and the Thief" and "Trial by Jury."


Their young energy, beautiful voices and outstanding artistic skills were met with a round of applause.

The performances run at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Jan. 12-15, at the Armerding Center for Music and the Arts Concert Hall, 520 E. Kenilworth Avenue in Wheaton. Although two of these dates have passed already, please don't lose your chance to see these talented young performers this Friday and Saturday. Joy, smiles and a happy mood are guaranteed!

As the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music website says, "Opera Mainstage is a meticulous year-long course that provides primary attention to the careful musical, vocal, and dramatic learning of a given role as students participate in the production of a classic operatic masterpiece. This program strives to prepare students for further pre-professional study in opera." Fall semester focuses on preparation and rehearsals of a full-length operatic production with four public performances. I guess, I was lucky to attend one of these performances, and I was really impressed.

"The Old Maid & The Thief" and "Trial By Jury" are directed by Olivia Doig Skaff. Olivia is a Chicago-based soprano who performs a range of classical and musical theater repertoire across the Midwest. Olivia has experience performing at Ohio Light Opera, Haymarket Opera, Gilbert and Sullivan Company, Inc., with Music Theater Works, Opera Atelier, and Chicago Opera Theater. She has received awards from the American Opera Society of Chicago, the Musicians Club of Women, the Chicago Bel Canto Foundation, the Orpheus Music Competition, the Chicago Italian Cultural Center, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

The orchestra ensemble consists of Lilian Chou, piano, Alissa Cox, piano, Callan Downing, violin, Grace Cumbee, violin, Timothy Holman, viola, Helena Norman, cello, and Emma Cho, percussion. It is led by conductor Nyela Basney. Nyela is a founder and director of Orvieto Musica, Inc. She also has led performances with the American Symphony Orchestra, the Toledo Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Rochester (NY) Philharmonic, the Sarajevo Philharmonic, the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, Operafestival di Roma, Lyric Stage in Dallas, and with other professional orchestras.

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Beautiful costumes were designed by a Chicago-based freelance costume designer Cindy Moon. A regional freelance lighting designer based in the Chicago area, Diane Fairchild, is a lighting designer for these performances. Production by Thomas Hueber and Sarah Holman.

The first opera that was presented that night was a one-act opera "Old Maid and the Thief." It was written by Gian Carlo Menotti, Italian-American composer, librettist, director, and playwright of the 20th century. The composer created realistic operas while using his own librettos. His Italian heritage and musical education combined with the musical education that he received in the United States helped him create masterpieces that represent a combination of 20th-century dramatic situations with the traditional form of Italian opera.

"The Old Maid and the Thief" was one of the first operas composed specifically for radio and was initially broadcast on April 22, 1939. It is a twisted tale of morality and manipulation. Menotti himself labeled this opera a "grotesque comedy." In the opera, a reputable woman, Miss Todd, and her maid, Laetitia, are faced with a dilemma when they let in a handsome traveler, Bob, who they come to believe is a runaway convict. Finally, they weave a web of lies and thievery in which they get caught themselves.

The role of Miss Todd was presented by Lily Wendt, the role of Laetitia was performed by Kari Swanson, the role of Miss Pinkerton was presented by Kayla Raschke, and the role of Bob was presented by Matthew Pacheco. The Radio Hour Host was Daniel Windus, the Radio Hour Production Assistant was Joanna L. Percy, and the Foley Artist was Kelsie Benware.


The second opera, "Trial by Jury," is a hilarious one-act opera that launched the successful collaboration of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. This production is set in 1930s America. The plaintiff Angelina seeks compensation from her ex-fiancé Edwin for breach of promise of marriage. Overseen by an admittedly corrupt, but still respected judge, the two opposing sides use all their tools to sway the impressionable jury.

The role of Usher was presented by Raphaella Zavaglia, the role of Foreman was presented by Elizabeth Roesner, the role of Defendant was presented by Michael Morris, the role of Judge was presented by Kevin Neace, the role of Plaintiff was presented by Bethany Wray, the role of Counsel was presented by Felicity Roche, and roles of Bridesmaids were presented by Kari Swanson and Kayla Raschke. The Jury consisted of Kelsie Benware, Charis Cumings, Elisabeth Patterson, Joanna L. Percy, Adelina Peretti, and Lily Wendt. (Different students perform at different dates. To find the exact names for certain dates, please go to www.wheaton.edu.)

What impressed me the most was the enthusiasm of the performers. They really enjoyed what they were doing and passed their joy to the audience members. I smiled and felt good while watching them perform and listening to their beautiful voices. I forgot about all my problems and was just enjoying the performance. Doesn't it prove that music has a power to renew us and to help us live more full and happy lives? How can one survive without music?

Therefore, I will always support anyone who is related to music and art in general, especially students who deserve our support because they work so hard. They are our future, and it's great to see them grow professionally and spiritually.

As a person who used to study classical music for many years I can't live without attending live classical music events, opera productions, and other cultural happenings. This pandemic limited our ability to attend concerts. It is an accepted fact that going to live concerts regularly can help you live longer. That's exactly what all of us need, right? Please, keep it in mind when you pass by Wheaton College next time. Besides the fact that it's a great college, it offers live performances that will help you feel young and happy. And as we know, a happy heart lives longer.

Tickets are $12. Tickets can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com.

The performances take place at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, Jan. 12-15, at the Armerding Center for Music and the Arts Concert Hall located at 520 E. Kenilworth Avenue in Wheaton. You will also be able to view the Friday and Saturday performances via livestream by visiting www.wheaton.edu/life-at-wheaton/streaming-media/live-wheaton-events/.

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