"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.'"
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.