Virgil Thomson

Four Saints in Three Acts (1934)

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A setting of the magnificent text by Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). For this opera, Thomson employed her writing technique of having characters and images just appear on the landscape of the stage; there is no linear plot line, only a real/historical/imaginary connection to a specified subject. This frees the creative process to attempt great character and language combinations that hopefully will provide insights, making for a completely modern opera where melodies, moods, etc., follow in surprising sequences, but always presenting a sense of the whole (or what Stein called "the eternal present"). There are humorous choruses about "pigeons on the grass, alas" and "Lucy Lily," as well as subtle lines about perception ("the garden inside and outside of the wall"), St. Ignatius predicting the Last Judgment, and St. Teresa painting flowers on very large eggs. An all African-American cast gave the first productions of this opera, because Thomson wanted clear American speech. Thomson had set three songs to Stein's texts before attempting this opera.

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