Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Raising Four Saints in the 21st Century

Before the moment flees, the Steiny Road Poet wants to clarify—she only raised one saint and his name is Ivan. The Saints under discussion here are the ones Gertrude Stein created for Virgil Thomson so they could have an opera together: Four Saints in Three Acts. That opera premiered on Broadway February 20, 1934, and that is what the Poet will be celebrating with her dear friends and colleagues Nancy Rhodes, artistic director of Encompass New Opera Theatre, and Frank Hentschker, director of the Martin E. Segal Theatre of the Graduate School of City University New York, on February 20, 2009, at CUNY’s Graduate Center.


The 2009 celebration of the 75th anniversary of Four Saints will be gloriously free to the public. The public, that means you, Dear Reader, must come early to claim a seat because after the 180 seats in Elebash Recital are filled, there will be no seeing the historic 50-minute oratorio version Nancy is producing with Roland Burks as St. Ignatius, Laura Choi Stuart as Theresa, Eve Gigliotti as Commère, and Nils Neubert as St. Chavez and St. Stephen.

At the 2009 Encompass New Opera Theatre party, I heard Roland Burks sing the joyful “Pigeons on the Grass, Alas” segment of the opera (there are no arias in Four Saints—it’s an equal opportunity opera) and my heart nearly broke open with excitement and spiritual lift. If you cannot come early, I recommend you contact Encompass and donate $100 so a seat can be reserved for you. The money is needed to pay the small orchestra that will enhance Virgil Thomson’s settings of Gertrude Stein’s poetry.


All the photos from that fundraising party can be seen in the slideshow currently installed in the upper left-hand column of this blog. Seen at the opera party was American art historianWanda Corn who will be speaking at the 75th anniversary celebration in the afternoon on what Stein’s operas did for this early Modernist who now folks say is a Post-Modernist as well. Go, Gertrude! Professor Corn, who is currently teaching for one semester at CUNY’s Graduate Center, will be curating an art show that is a cultural study of Stein’s friendships and partnerships with other artists during the period between the two great wars (WWI & WWII). That show entitled “Seeing Gertrude Stein” will open in San Francisco at the Contemporary Jewish Museum and run from May to September 2011. The show will move to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC (Fall 2011). Wouldn’t it be swell if Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On could be featured along with this art exhibition?


OK, so come hear the Steiny Road Poet talk about why Four Saints in Three Acts remains the most important American opera at CUNY’s Graduate Center 3 pm on February 20. Be a saint and bring your checkbook so you can buy The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas and Steven Watson’s book Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism. Steven will be airing his film based on his book and original film footage from the 1934 production of Four Saints (2 pm). If you don’t get into the Elebash Hall at 6:30 pm, you will be able to see the Hans Gallas Gertrude Stein collection.