SFMOMA in Association with YBCA Presents
Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation
An Ensemble Parallèle production
Nicole Paiement, conductor/artistic director
Brian Staufenbiel, director
Music by Virgil Thomson and Luciano Chessa
Libretto by Gertrude Stein
Featuring Kalup Linzy
On the occasion of SFMOMA's landmark exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian
Avant-Garde and YBCA's Bay Area Now 6 (BAN6), we present a new production of Virgil Thomson
and Gertrude Stein's landmark opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. The first incarnation of modernism in
American opera, Four Saints follows two 16th-century saints as they reminisce about their mortal lives
and enjoy a heavenly picnic.
At the time of its debut in 1934, Four Saints overturned operatic convention with a libretto by Stein that
emphasized the sound of words over story. Spurred by Stein's language play is Thomson's sublime score,
which celebrates the hymns and folks songs at the heart of American music. The new, multimedia-
infused restaging is a rich artistic collaboration among Bay Area contemporary chamber opera group
Ensemble Parallèle (production design by Brian Staufenbiel and conducted by Nicole Paiement),
composer Luciano Chessa, and artist Kalup Linzy. Based on Thomson's final score, the new production
pairs Four Saints with the premiere of A Heavenly Act, a new opera-installation by Chessa, with video
and performance by Linzy and libretto also by Stein. The "terrestrial" saints of Thomson's opera will find
themselves anticipated and complemented by Chessa and Linzy's "celestial" and projected counterparts.
Like the original, the new opera subversively blurs the lines between art, music, and literature, staying
true to Stein and Thomson's daring notion that in making art, as Thomson said, one might also hope to
Four Saints highlights the avant-garde energy at the heart of both The Steins Collect and BAN6,
underscoring the brilliant audacity of the Stein family's contributions to modern culture and reminding
us of the timeless power of artistic collaboration.
Audio of the Prelude
STEVEN WATSON PREPARES FOR SAINTS
Thu, Aug 11, 7pm
Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA
$10 general, $7 YBCA, SFMOMA, CJM members, students and seniors
In his book Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism, Watson details an engaging and lurid narrative of the circle of early twentieth-century tastemakers who contributed to the original production of Four Saints in Three Acts. On the occasion of the museum’s restaging of this opera, Watson discusses his book and offers insight into the cultural shift heralded by this production. Watson’s lecture will also feature a preview of select opera performances by Kalup Linzy, Ensemble Parallèle and Luciano Chessa.
THE ART OF FOUR SAINTS IN THREE ACTS
Thu, Aug 18, 6:30pm
Contemporary Jewish Museum / Free with CJM admission
See original music, art, and ephemera connected with the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson collaboration Four Saints in Three Acts in a gallery talk preceding the new staging of the opera at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
YERBA BUENA NEIGHBORHOOD CELEBRATES GERTRUDE STEIN
May – September
Join the Yerba Buena neighborhood this summer in celebrating the life of writer Gertrude Stein and her influence on modern art, literature, and culture. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival will each host related programming: from art exhibitions to opera, poetry readings to salons, there’s definitely a there there. Visit sfmoma.org/celebratestein for a complete list of programs, discounts, and members-only specials throughout the neighborhood.
Kalup Linzy is a video and performance artist in Brooklyn. He looks to soap operas, Southern and African American vernacular speech, queer culture, disco, and drag to present stylized but felt personal drama. His characters, played by friends and often by himself, appear in video series presented via YouTube and in art spaces. He often performs songs from his 2008 album, SweetBerry Sonnet, in character. He has recently appeared on General Hospital and begun a creative collaboration, Kalup & Franco, with the actor James Franco.
Linzy has received awards from the Louis Comfort Tiffany, The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial, and the Creative Capital foundations. His work has been shown in exhibitions at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; the Athens Biennale; and the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, among others, and is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 2009, the Studio Museum in Harlem presented Kalup Linzy: If it Don't Fit, the first museum survey of his work.
Luciano Chessa has worked in Europe, the United States, and Australia as a composer, conductor, pianist, and musical saw/Vietnamese dan bau soloist. Recent premieres include a large orchestral work commissioned by the Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino, Italy; TomBoy, for piano and a video by Terry Berlier; and Movements, a multimedia work for 16mm film, dan bau, and amplified film projectors produced in collaboration with filmmaker Rick Bahto. As a music historian Chessa has completed Luigi Russolo Futurista. Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult, the first monograph of Russolo and his art of noise, forthcoming by the University of California Press. Chessa was invited by the New York–based Performa Biennial to direct the first reconstruction project of Russolo’s earliest intonarumori orchestra and to curate a series of specifically commissioned concerts. This production was hailed by The New York Times as one of the best events in the arts of 2009. In March 2011, the Orchestra of Futurist Noise Intoners was presented in a sold out concert by Berliner Festspiele-Maerzmusik Festival, and other European appearances have been scheduled. He teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and collaborates with San Francisco’s Italian Cultural Institute.
Award-winning Ensemble Parallèle is a professional, nonprofit organization that develops and performs contemporary chamber opera. It is the only organization in the Bay Area presenting exclusively fully-cast-and-staged contemporary chamber operas.
Ensemble Parallèle commissions chamber orchestrations of contemporary grand opera and aims to bring together new audiences and emerging talent through workshops, seminars, readings of new works, and educational outreach programs.
Artistic director Nicole Paiement founded the group in 1994 to perform new music and collaborate with artists like dancers, choreographers, and visual and multimedia artists—as its name suggests, in parallel—to reach a wider audience, including young viewers. Brian Staufenbiel has served as Director-in-Residence at Ensemble Parallèle since 2007, as the group began to focus exclusively on contemporary chamber opera, presenting the world premiere of Lou Harrison’s opera Young Caesar. Recently productions have included the California premiere of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck with chamber orchestration by composer John Rea and the Bay Area premiere of Philip Glass’ opera Orphée. The organization is currently working on the world premiere of the chamber orchestration of John Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby.
Ensemble Parallèle has presented 130 performances (including 30 world premieres), released 14 recordings, and commissioned 19 new works, and it has performed in North America, Australia, and Asia. It is an ensemble in residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. To learn more: ensembleparallele.com.
Gertrude Stein was a major twentieth-century writer and art patron. Born in 1874, she spent her early years in Europe with before her family settled in Oakland, California. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1898 with a degree in psychology and went on to study medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
In 1903 Stein joined her brother Leo in Paris, and they began collecting post-impressionist paintings by artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Stein met her assistant Alice B. Toklas in 1909, and they became lifelong companions.
Stein’s innovative works (Three Lives , Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms  , and The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress ) were intended to employ the techniques of abstraction and Cubism in prose, but much of her work was virtually unintelligible to even educated readers. Her only commercial success was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), written by Stein from Toklas’s point of view.
After World War I, she maintained her salon and served as both hostess and inspiration to such American expatriates as Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. (She is credited with coining the phrase “the lost generation.”)
In addition to her other novels and memoirs, she wrote librettos to two operas by Virgil Thomson, <>em>Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947). Stein died in 1946 in France.
American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson produced a highly original body of work rooted in American speech rhythms and hymnbook harmony. Born in 1896, Thomson studied at Harvard and spent a prolonged period in Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger and met Cocteau, Stravinsky, Satie, and the artists of Les Six. Later he returned to the United States and became chief music critic for the New York Herald Tribune.
Thomson composed in almost every genre of music, with a musical style marked by sharp wit and overt playfulness. His music was most influenced by Satie's ideals of clarity, simplicity, irony, and humor. Among his most famous works are the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All (both with texts by Gertrude Stein), scores to Pare Lorentz’s films The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River and to Robert Flaherty’s film Louisiana Story. He was also the author of eight books, including an autobiography.
Among his many honors and awards are the Pulitzer Prize, a Brandeis Award, the gold medal for music from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Book Circle Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Music Council Award, and 20 honorary doctorates. He died in 1989.
YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Arts
YBCA Performance 11–12 is made possible in part by:
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 11–12:
Zellerbach Family Foundation
Panta Rhea Foundation
Cultural Services of the French Embassy
New England Foundation for the Arts
and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
SF Bay Guardian