[Met Tour] CID:232600

Metropolitan Opera Premiere, New Production

Four Saints in Three Acts
Vivian Beaumont Theater, Forum, New York, Tue, February 20, 1973

Debut : Roland Gagnon, Barbara Hendricks, Walter Richardson, Nancy Szabo, Betty Allen, Benjamin Matthews, Clamma Dale, Arthur Thompson, Henry Price, Connie Barnett, Carolyn Val-Schmidt, Melvin Lowery, Arthur Warren, Stephen Rowland

Four Saints in Three Acts (1)
Virgil Thomson | Gertrude Stein
St. Stephen
David Britton

St. Settlement
Barbara Hendricks [Debut]

St. Plan
Walter Richardson [Debut]

St. Sara
Nancy Szabo [Debut]

Betty Allen [Debut]

Benjamin Matthews [Debut]

St. Teresa I
Clamma Dale [Debut]

St. Teresa II
Hilda Harris

St. Ignatius
Arthur Thompson [Debut]

St. Cecilia
Doris Hollenbach

St. Chavez
Henry Price [Debut]

St. Genevieve
Connie Barnett [Debut]

St. Anne
Carolyn Val-Schmidt [Debut]

St. Abselon
Melvin Lowery [Debut]

Arthur Warren [Debut]

St. Vincent
Stephen Rowland [Debut]

Roland Gagnon [Debut]

Alvin Ailey

Set Designer
Ming Cho Lee

Costume Designer
Jane Greenwood

Lighting Designer
Shirley Prendergast

Four Saints in Three Acts received twelve performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times:

Opera: Mini-Met's Playful 'Four Saints'

Thomson-Stein Work Retains Its Charms

It was Virgil Thomson's "Four Saints in Three Acts" at the Forum on Thursday night, as the second Mini-Met bill. St. Therese I and St. Therese II made their innocent appearances; Betty Allen, the Commère sang and acted with a mean twinkle in her eye, and St. Ignatius Loyola finally got around to "Pigeons on the grass, alas," to the vast enjoyment of the audience in the little theater.

This is the Thomson opera to the Gertrude Stein libretto. It had its first staged presentation in 1934, and Virgil Thomson was suddenly a famous man. "Four Saints in Three Acts" was wonderful camp then, and is wonderful camp now, and the campiest thing about it is its harmonic language.

The Bartóks and Prokofievs and Hindemiths and Coplands of the day showed their modernism through a screen of dissonance. That was the accepted avant-garde style. Along came Mr. Thomson, who decided to be avant-garde in reverse. He composed a white-key opera out of Satie; an American hymn-tune, folk-song opera with more plagal cadences than can be found in a church in a year of Sundays; an opera with hardly a dissonance. And yet it was "modern."

It still retains its charm. "Four Saints," like "The Mother of Us All" occupies a special place in the history of opera. It may be precious, it may be overcute, but it has a peculiar sweetness and innocence. It means everything and it means nothing. The listener is awash in a sea of word and phrase associations; is exasperated by the repetitions the same time he is enchanted; can be irritated by the word play because he cannot make up his mind whether it is profound or bogus. And yet the damn thing works.

The music is affectionate and playful, and there is nothing remotely like it in opera. Only Mr. Thomson could have gotten away with this sophisticated baby talk; he always knew how to tease and to create outrageous paradoxes. In a crazy kind of way, "Four Saints in Three Acts" is more daring than the Prokofiev operas and the Bartók concertos - and that is part of the Thomson paradox. It is also regretfully true that without Gertrude Stein his music was nothing.

As in the [inaugural] Ohana Purcell bill last Monday, the orchestra was on a balcony overlooking the stage, and the singers kept in contact with the conductor, Roland Gagnon, through closed-circuit television cameras scattered around. Ming Cho Lee designed the sets. They were minimal. Costumes were no problem; saints are frocked. Alvin Ailey staged the work and provided the dances---Martha Grahamish dances, modest and simple.

Everybody in the cast could be applauded. The young singers, white and black (the 1934 original was all black), showed clear voices and impeccable diction (the diction with a huge assist from Mr. Thomson's idiomatic settings). Betty Allen, the one veteran in the cast, acted the Commère with a kind of surprised innocence and repressed fun; she was marvelous. When is she not? Her partner as the Compère, Benjamin Matthews, also enjoyed himself with his deadpan delivery and resonant voice.

The principal singers were Clamma Dale and Hilda Harris as the Therese pair, and Arthur Thompson as St. Ignatius. All were fine - the two young women with their clear, ringing sopranos; Mr. Thompson with his big, mellow baritone. Pleasant singing also was provided by David Britton as St. Stephen, Barbara Hendricks as St. Settlement, Walter Richardson as St. Plan and Nancy Szabo as St. Sarah.

Mr. Gagnon conducted with a fine feel for the idiom, and a few more performances will see some of the ensemble problems worked out. Mr. Thomson was present, and when he went on stage there was a standing ovation. And, by extension, the bravos also were for the Mini-Met.

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