Four Saints in Three Acts
Composer: Virgil Thomson
Librettist: Gertrude Stein
Other Artistic Personnel: Alexander Smallens (Conductor)
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
Premiere Date: February 20, 1934
Producing Company: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music
Description: 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."
Character List (Major): Saint Teresa I (s)
Saint Teresa II (con)
Saint Ignatius Loyola (bar)
Saint Chavez (t)
Saint Settlement (s)
Compere (b)
Commere (mz)
Character List (Minor): Saint Stephen (t)
Bit Parts: Saint Plan (b)
Saint Sarah (mz)

Chorus of named saints:
Saint Absalom (t)
Saint Cecilia (s)
Saint Lawrence (b)
Saint Celestine (mz)
Saint Jan (b)
Saint Anne (mz)
Saint Answers (mz)
Saint Genevieve (s)
Saint Eustace (bar)
Saint Vincent (speaking)
Saint Phillip (bar)
Saint Placide (b)
Tenor Solo (t)
Reviews: Time, Michael Walsh, 2-12-96; The Wall Street Journal, Willard Spiegelman, 2-1-96; New York, Peter G. Davis, 12-1-86; The New York Times, Stephen Holden, 11-14-86; The New York Times, John Rockwell, 11-14-86; The New York Times, John Rockwell, 11-9-86; Stereo Review, 12-82; The New York Times, John Rockwell, 10-3-82; New York, Peter G. Davis, 11-30-81; The New York Times, Donal Henahan, 11-15-81; The New York Times, Theodore W. Libbey Jr., 11-8-81; The New York Times, Donal Henahan, 11-12-77; The New Yorker, Andrew Porter, 3-3-73; The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg, 2-24-73; The New York Times, Allen Hughes, 1-16-72; The New York Times, Raymond Ericson, 10-24-71; San Francisco Chronicle, Heuwell Tircuit, 8-18-70; The New York Times, Raymond Ericson, 4-26-70
Length: 01:30
Total Acts: 3
Chorus: SATB Chorus
Orchestration: 1 fl, 1 ob, 1 cl, 1 bsn - 2 hrn, 1 tpt, 1 tbn - perc - harm, can - str
Ballet/Dance: Ballet
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
Contact: G. Schirmer, Inc.
E-mail Address:
Phone: 212-254-2100
Publisher Web Site:
Schedule of Performances Listings
Four Saints in Three Acts (Thomson)
Friday, January 26, 1996 - Houston Grand Opera
Four Saints in Three Acts (Thomson)
Saturday, April 10, 1993 - Chicago Opera Theater
Four Saints in Three Acts (Thomson)
Friday, February 19, 1993 - University of Wisconsin-Madison Opera
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