February 20, 1934
Four Saints in Three Acts
Composer:Virgil Thomson
Librettist:Gertrude Stein
A surrealist drama: The story is of religious life in 16th-century Spain, but is really a metaphor for the artistic life that [the creators] lived themselves. St. Teresa was based on Gertrude Stein and St. Ignatius on James Joyce.

Prologue: A choral introduction to the saints
Act I: On the steps of Avila Cathedral
Act II: A garden party in the country near Barcelona
Act III: A monastery garden on the coast near Barcelona
Act IV: The sisters and saints reassembled and reenacting why they went away to stay.

Imaginary but characteristic incidents from the lives of the saints constitute the work's action. Its principal characters are St. Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius Loyola, and their respective confidants, Saint Settlement and St. Chavez. Other characters include a Compere and Commere who speak to the audience and to each other about the progress of the opera. About her libretto, Gertrude Stein wrote, "A saint a real saint never does anything, a martyr does something but a really good saint does nothing and so I wanted to have Four Saints that did nothing and I wrote Four Saints in Three Acts and they did nothing and that was everything. Generally speaking anybody is more interesting doing nothing than doing anything."

Click company name to view productions details.
Opera ParallèleFour Saints in Three Acts8/13/2011 - 8/13/2011
Encompass New Opera TheatreFour Saints in Three Acts2/20/2009 - 3/15/2009
Houston Grand OperaFour Saints in Three Acts1/1/1996 - 2/1/1996
Chicago Opera TheaterFour Saints in Three Acts4/1/1993 - 4/25/1993
University of Wisconsin-MadisonFour Saints in Three Acts2/1/1993 - 2/27/1993

OPERA America/Opera.ca Grants Awarded
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The Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase 2015

Title Information

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Approximate Runtime (hh:mm)

Number of Acts

Musical Style
Through-composed, with dialogue; tonal; minimalist in its approach to themes, scoring, etc. Some Anglican chant and other references to religious music; extended monophonic linear passages; references to nursery rhymes

Vocal & Musical Forces
2 Sopranos, 2 Mezzo-Sopranos, 2 Tenors, Baritone, 2 Basses, SATB Chorus, Ballet

Original Cast
The original 1934 cast was completely African-American (one year before Gershwin's Porgy and Bess), although Thomson did not consider this to be a prerequisite for the work.

Edward Matthews (St. Ignatius)
Abner Dorsey (Compere)
Altonell Hines (Commere)
Bruce Howard (St. Teresa II)
Embry Bonner (St. Chavez)
Bertha Fitzhugh Baker (St. Settlement)
Beatrice Robinson Wayne (St. Teresa I)
The Eva Jessye Choir

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