Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
Back to Gertrude Stein's main page on UbuWeb
Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson "Four Saints in Three Acts" (1927-1928)
Accordion – Guy Klucevsek
Bass – Lewis J. Paer
Bassoon – Ralph Schwartz
Cello – Gary Fitzgerald, Loretta O'Sullivan
Chorus [Alto] – Cheryl Kirk, Deborah Young, Gloria Turner, Linda Childs, Lisa Polite, Patricia McDermott
Chorus [Baritone & Bass] – Clifford Townsend, Earl Grandison, Kevin Elliot (2), Lloyd Thompkins, Theodore Hodges, William Penn (3)
Chorus [Soprano] – Denise Lock, Diane Wilson, Ella Eure-Eaton, Iris Harris, Judith Otten, Maeretha Stewart, Marilyn Andry
Chorus [Tenor] – Clifford Terry, Harold Beasley, Joseph de Vaughn, Leon Wheeler, Louis Tucker, Richard Jasper
Clarinet – William Blount
Composed By – Virgil Thomson
Conductor – Joel Thome
Conductor [Chorus Master] – Lawrence Weller
Design – Denise Minobe
Flute – Susan Palma
Harmonium – Romulus Franceschini
Lyrics By [Libretto] – Gertrude Stein
Mastered By – Michele Stone
Oboe – Charles Kuskin
Orchestra – Orchestra Of Our Time*
Other [Director] – Keith Holzman
Percussion – Glen Velez, Jeffrey Kraus
Producer [Production And Musical Supervision] – Joanna Nickrenz, Marc J. Aubort
Trombone – Richard Clard
Viola – Louise Schulman, Ronald E. Carbone, Valerie Heywood*
Violin – Andrew Schaw, Diane Bruce, Fumiko Wellington, Jean Ingraham, Katsuko Esaki, Lisa Lyons, Richard Henrickson, Robert Chausow, Suzanne Ornstein
Vocals [Commère] – Betty Allen
Vocals [Compère] – Benjamin Matthews
Vocals [St. Absalon] – Leon Wheeler
Vocals [St. Anne] – Cheryl Kirk
Vocals [St. Answers] – Louis Tucker
Vocals [St. Cecilia] – Denise Lock
Vocals [St. Celestine] – Maeretha Stewart
Vocals [St. Chavez] – William Brown (3)
Vocals [St. Eustace] – Kevin Elliot (2)
Vocals [St. Genevieve] – Linda Childs
Vocals [St. Ignatius] – Arthur Thompson (2)
Vocals [St. Jan & St. Placide] – Clifford Townsend
Vocals [St. Lawrence] – Lloyd Thompkins
Vocals [St. Plan] – William Penn (3)
Vocals [St. Sara] – Ella Eure-Eaton
Vocals [St. Settlement] – Gwendolyn Bradley
Vocals [St. Stephen] – Joseph de Vaughn
Vocals [St. Teresa I] – Clamma Dale
Vocals [St. Teresa Ii] – Florence Quivar
""Four Saints in Three Acts" is an opera with words by Gertrude Stein and music by Virgil Thomson. It was written in 1927 and 1928 in France and first performed at the Hartford Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, by an organization with the resounding name of The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music From there it went to Broadway where it played some sixty nights — not much for a hit musical, but a lot for an opera — and became a legend. It has been performed since, notably Friday the 13th, November, 1981 in Carnegie Hall, New York, a performance which honored the composer's eighty-fifth birthday and became the basis for this recording."
— Excerpted from an enclosed essay by Eric Salzman.
Recorded November 1981 at Rutgers Church, New York, using the JVC Digital Audio System (DAS-90).
LP released by Nonesuch Records 1982
Four Saints in Three Acts is an opera by American composer Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein. Written in 1927-8, it contains about 20 saints, and is in at least four acts. It was ground breaking for form, content, and its all-black cast, with singers directed by Eva Jessye, a prominent black choral director, and supported by her choir.
Thomson suggested the topic, and the libretto as delivered can be read in Stein's collected works. The opera features two 16th-century Spanish saints—the former mercenary Ignatius of Loyola and the mystic Teresa of Avila— as well as their colleagues, real and imagined: St. Plan, St. Settlement, St. Plot, St. Chavez, etc. Thomson decided to divide St. Teresa's role between two singers, "St. Teresa I" and "St. Teresa II", and added the master and mistress of ceremonies (Compère and Commère- literally, the "godparents") to sing Stein's stage directions.
After the chorus sings a prelude, the first act takes place at the Ávila cathedral; it is titled "St. Teresa half indoors and half out of doors". Act two, "Might it be mountains if it were not Barcelona", involves a telescope and glimpses of a heavenly mansion. Act three, "St. Ignatius and one of two literally" is a picnic and contains Ignatius' famous aria "Pigeons on the grass alas". It ends with a tango-like ballet. The brief fourth act ("The sisters and saints reassembled and re-enacting why they went away to stay") is set at the garden of a monastery. Before the curtain falls the Compère announces "Last act", and the chorus replies "Which is a fact".
First staged at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford (Feb. 7, 1934), Four Saints in Three Acts opened on Broadway on February 20, 1934. The opera was notable in defying many traditional aspects of opera. Stein's libretto focused more on an affinity for the sounds of words than on presenting a narrative. Thomson's music was unconventional in its very simplicity. Eva Jessye, a black music pioneer in New York, directed the singers and her choir in the production. The production was directed by John Houseman, who was 31 and who had only recently turned his attention to theater after a career as a speculator in the international grain market.
The sets of the first production, designed by artist Florine Stettheimer, included such things as cellophane backdrops, and the costumes (also Stettheimer's) were of colorful lace, silk and taffeta. Frederick Ashton provided the choreography (after George Balanchine turned down the job).
Also considered unusual was the portrayal of the European saints by an all-black cast, for which there was no precedent in American history. These unconventional elements led to a successful and well-received first production. While critics were divided, audiences accepted the fantasy world created by the singers, who vividly conveyed the words and melodies given to their saintly characters.
The opera would be performed later as a concert oratorio, as in the 1942 and 1947 radio broadcasts. Stage performances were produced in 1952 and 1973. In 1981, a New York concert version was performed for Thomson's eighty-fifth birthday celebration. For this performance, Betty Allen, Gwendolyn Bradley, William Brown, Clamma Dale, Benjamin Matthews, Florence Quivar and Arthur Thompson sang the principal parts.
There have also been stagings by Robert Wilson and the choreographer Mark Morris, who created a dance piece for it. -- Wikipedia