The Old Maid and the Thief is an opera by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, written and premiered in 1939. It was the first opera ever composed specifically for performance on the radio.
Menotti wrote the libretto himself; it was his first in English. The commission was from NBC. Rather than using the more contemporary through-composed style, he chose to return to the 18th century opera buffa method of composing set numbers, a format which worked well on the radio. There are 14 short scenes, each preceded by a narrated "announcement", in keeping with the medium of radio. The harmonic language is tonal and conservative. The opera was moderately successful and helped establish his career in the United States.
The story, about an old maid, Miss Todd, her housemaid Laetitia, and a bum living under her roof, Bob, 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.
The opera is probably most known for two arias. First, "What curse for a woman, is a timid man (Steal me, sweet thief)," is a full scene, where Laetitia sings of her affection for Bob, the bum. The other popular aria is "Bob's Bedroom Aria," where Bob comtemplates hitting the road.
The opera was premiered on NBC on April 22, 1939, and was first staged in Philadelphia on February 11, 1941.