Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation

Related Exhibition The Steins Collect

Thursday, August 18, 2011, 7:30 p.m. (preview)
Friday - Saturday, August 19 - 20, 2011, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 21, 2011, 2:00 p.m.

Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco

"Why did Gertrude Stein and I decide to write an opera about saints? Simply because we viewed a saint's life as related to our own. In all times the consecrated artist has tended to live surrounded by younger artists and to guide them into the ways of spontaneity. And thus to characterize one’s gift is indeed to invite ‘inspiration’ and just possibly, through art, make 'miracles.'"

—Virgil Thomson

On the occasion of SFMOMA's landmark exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde and YBCA's Bay Area Now 6, we present a new production of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's landmark opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. The first incarnation of modernism in American opera and a Broadway hit in 1934, Stein's libretto reworks convention with a focus on sound over story. Spurring Stein's language play, Thomson's score celebrates the hymns and folks songs at the heart of American music.

Nodding to the original, the new production presents a rich artistic collaboration among the contemporary chamber opera organization Ensemble Parallèle (production design by Brian Staufenbiel and conducted by Nicole Paiement), composer Luciano Chessa, and artist Kalup Linzy. The new production pairs Thomson's final score for Four Saints with the premiere of A Heavenly Act, a new opera-installation by Chessa, with video and performance by Linzy and libretto also by Stein. The "terrestrial" saints of Thomson's opera will find themselves anticipated and complemented by Chessa and Linzy's "celestial" and projected counterparts—each group wandering and wondering where their processions might take them.

Highlighting the avant-garde energy at the heart of SFMOMA's exhibition, The Steins Collect, and YBCA's Bay Area Now 6, the opera serves as a lens through which to understand the vision, brilliance, and daring of the Stein's collection during its time — and how circles of artists continue to make cutting-edge work, together, today.


An Ensemble Parallèle production
Nicole Paiement, conductor/artistic director
Brian Staufenbiel, director
Music by Virgil Thomson and Luciano Chessa
Libretto by Gertrude Stein
Featuring Kalup Linzy

Additional Info

Presented by SFMOMA in association with YBCA.


Friday - Saturday, August 19 - 20, 2011, 7:00 p.m.

Cultural historian Steven Watson and principals from the new production will discuss the opera's original 1934 production and how we have adapted it today.

Image: Kalup Linzy; courtesy Max Snow

This project was funded in part by a grant from the Virgil Thomson Foundation, Ltd.