To Know to Know to Love Her So

A saint is one to be for two when three and you make five and two and cover.  Source

Four Saints in Three Acts premiere performance with sets by Florine Stettheimer

Four Saints in Three Acts premiere performance with sets by Florine Stettheimer

The other night I had a chance to speak to Gertrude Stein at a party at Pablo Picasso’s home (I’ll explain…), and I regret not asking her about her collaboration with American composer Virgil Thomson, for whom she wrote two opera librettos in the last two decades of her life.  They were classic Stein, meaning they didn’t make any logical “sense”, but as the introduction to the 1947 CBS radio broadcast of their first collaboration, Four Saints in Three Acts, says…

Gertrude Stein’s words made no sense to anyone. …  Afterwards however, people went away with an embarrassed feeling that the thing made more sense than they thought.  They began to see that the authors wanted them to understand not illogical words, but a fine symbolism of the gaiety and strength of spiritual and consecrated lives.  Source

Four Saints in Three Acts premiered in Connecticut in 1934 and went on to Broadway later that same year.  The thought that a modernist, non-linear opera ran on Broadway is confounding enough, but to add to that, the opera was also performed by an all-black cast.

At any rate, you can judge the opera for yourself thanks to a digitized 1947 CBS Radio broadcast, conducted by Thomson a year after Stein’s death.  Reading the libretto may not make sense, but hearing it sung, it certainly has a good rhythm to it…

Set design for 27 at Opera Theater of Saint Louis by Allen Moyer

Set design for 27 at Opera Theater of Saint Louis by Allen Moyer

From writer of librettos, to the subject of a libretto herself, Gertrude Stein‘s 27 Rue de Fleurs Paris apartment, the site of her celebrated salon, is the setting and namesake of the forthcoming opera 27, by Ricky Ian Gordon, another American composer, to be given its premiere by the Opera Theater of Saint Louis this summer.  Here’s an article in Opera News in anticipation of this premiere.

And most importantly!

If you want to meet Gertrude Stein in person, then don’t miss the last few performances of A Serious Banquet, a Cubist dinner party featuring such luminaries as Stein, Picasso, Braque, and Rousseau among others, hosted by This is Not a Theater Company.  The Rave reviews are in, the company is legendary, and dinner is included!  What’s not to love!

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