Geneva Anderson digs into art

SFMOMA presents “Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation,” at YBCA’s Novellus Theater, August 18 through 21, 2011

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein looking over the score for Four Saints in Three Acts, ca. 1929; Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University; photo: Mabel Thérèse Bonney

Among the outtakes from Woody Allen’s recent hit film Midnight in Paris might well have been a scene showing Gertrude Stein being asked by the obscure young American composer Virgil Thomson to create an opera libretto for him.  There, in Paris in 1927, began one of America’s quirkiest creative partnerships, yielding not only the unique, wacky, and strangely moving operas Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947), but opening the floodgates for new modernist thought in music, literature, and art in America.

Stein’s typically nonlinear libretto for Four Saints, more focused on the sounds of words than on plot, is a sort of fractured fairy tale starring two 16th-century Spanish saints—the theologian Ignatius of Loyola and the mystic Teresa of Avila—and a gaggle of imaginary cohorts (St. Plan, St. Settlement, St. Plot, St. Chavez, etc.) who have visions of a heavenly mansion, enjoy a celestial picnic, and dance a tango-inflected ballet.  Thomson’s accessible music draws upon the snappy rhythms of American speech and the warm melodic shapes of American folksongs and hymns. 

On the occasion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s major exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Bay Area Now 6 (BAN6), SFMOMA in association with YBCA will present a new production of Stein and Thomson’s opera. The new version, titled Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation, will play at YBCA’s Novellus Theater this Thursday, August 18, through Sunday, August 21, 2011.  The 50 minute performance will be preceded by a “A Heavenly Act” (2011), a brand new stand-alone curtain-raiser with an original score by Luciano Chessa and new video and performance elements by Kalup Linzy, inspired by a streamlined 1950s version of Thomson and Stein’s opera.  Four Saints, which follows it, will be augmented by video projections from Chessa and Linzy’s opening piece.

Four Saints is vintage Thomson/Stein, simultaneously All-American and countercultural,” said New York opera dramaturg Cori Ellison.  “Avant-garde yet sweetly ingenuous, it’s always been a magnet for the most imaginative theatre and visual artists, from Robert Wilson and Mark Morris on down.  I’d say any performance of this rare and charming opera is a must-see.”

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, with libretto by Gertrude Stein

Featuring Kalup Linzy

Novellus Theater at YBCA

Preview: Thursday, August 18, 7:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20, 8 p.m.

Sunday, August 21, 2 p.m.

For tickets ($10–$85) visit or call 415.978.2787

The Art of Four Saints in Three Acts, gallery talk

Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m. • Contemporary Jewish Museum, Free with museum admission

See original music, art, and ephemera connected with the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson collaboration Four Saints in Three Acts in a gallery talk directly preceding the preview performance of SFMOMA’s new staging of the opera at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories exhibition at Contemporary Jewish Museum, May 12, 2011 – September 6, 2011:

Drawing upon a wealth of rarely seen artistic and archival materials, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories illuminates Stein’s life and pivotal role in art during the 20th century.

SFMOMA exhibition: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, through September 6, 2011

American expatriates in bohemian Paris when the 20th century was young, the Steins — writer Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah — were among the first to recognize the talents of avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Through their friendship and patronage, they helped spark an artistic revolution. This landmark exhibition draws on collections around the world to reunite the Steins’ unparalleled holdings of modern art, bringing together, for the first time in a generation, dozens of works by Matisse, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others. Artworks on view include Matisse’s Blue Nude (Baltimore Museum of Art) and Self-Portrait (Statens Museum, Copenhagen), and Picasso’s famous portrait Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Yerba Buena Neighborhood Celebrates Gertrude Stein, May–September, 2011

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   for a complete list of programs, discounts, and members-only specials throughout the neighborhood.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love “La Bohème”? Brush up by streaming operamission from NY, beginning this Tuesday

opermission offers a fabulous opportunity to learn all about Puccini’s “La Bohème” through a 4 part program that begins this Tuesday that West Coast audiences can videostream live.

I really enjoyed Santa Fe Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème when I visited in July.  The age-old story of star-crossed lovers Mimi and Rodolfo falling in and out of love in 19th-century Paris, set to gorgeous music, is one of the most beloved operas of all times.  I’ve just learned of a fabulous opera “happening”:  A feisty little New York company called, “operamission,” will videostream a 4-session immersion, essentially unpacking La Bohème, act by act, from the Gershwin Hotel in New York, starting this Tuesday, August 16, 2011 and continuing Sunday, August 21; Tuesday, August 23; and Sunday, August 28, all at 7pm EDST (4pm PDST). Audiences on the West Coast can stream any or all of the four sessions live at 4 pm at Ustream.

Puccini’s La Bohème: Assembly Required,” is presented by operamission and Neke Carson, (art event curator of the Gershwin Hotel.)  This unique four part series will offer an insider’s view of “assembling” an opera.  For the first two hours of each session, conductor Jennifer Peterson, operamission’s director, will rehearse an ad-hoc orchestra and an international cast of soloists in one act of Puccini’s masterpiece, with opera dramaturg Cori Ellison and stage directors Eric Einhorn (8/16), Jonathon Field (8/21 and 8/23), and Marc Verzatt (8/28) offering commentary.  They will be joined by live and internet audience members and blogging and Tweeting journalists doing the same, in real time.  The result: a spontaneous nationwide opera “community” and a unique and fun learning experience.  The third hour of each session will offer an uninterrupted performance of the act just rehearsed.  The program will showcase a ‘tag‐team’ style cast of acclaimed international operatic artists too (listed below) from La Scala, the Met, the old New York City Opera, Teatro Colon, Glimmerglass, and all over. 

Act I – Tuesday, August 16, 4-7pm

CAST: Roseanne Ackerley, Glenn Seven Allen, David Adam Moore, Michael Weyandt, Cory Clines, Lawrence Long

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Eric Einhorn, Cori Ellison

Act II – Sunday, August 21, 4-7pm

CAST: Roseanne Ackerley, Sharin Apostolou, Ryan MacPherson, Ryan MacPherson, Michael Weyandt, Cory Clines, Ryan Allen

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Jonathon Field, Cori Ellison

 Act III – Tuesday, August 23, 4-7pm

CAST: Kerri Marcinko, Caroline Worra, Ryan MacPherson, James Bobick

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Jonathon Field, Cori Ellison

Act IV – Sunday, August 28, 4-7pm

CAST: Kerri Marcinko, Caroline Worra, Ryan MacPherson, Gregory Gerbrandt, Michael Weyandt, Kevin Burdette

HOSTS: Jennifer Peterson, Marc Verzatt, Cori Ellison

About operamission:  operamission, bringing the art “from the composer to the audience,” has established its artistic presence in the New York classical music scene with twelve presentations since March 2009.  operamission’s productions have ranged from concerts of Handel opera with period instruments, to cabaret, to fully‐staged operatic world premieres. Last August’s groundbreaking presentation of “Così fan tutte: Some Assembly Required” put the troupe on the map with its dynamic format, enriching audience awareness of opera as an accessible and vivid genre.

Details: For complete details, click to view the press release or postcardFor free live videostreaming click Ustream. (Just click on the link and you will see a dedicated channel from which you can easily watch all or part of any program.)

Contact: Jennifer Peterson, director, operamission, , or phone 917 520‐3163, or visit

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment