Four Saints in Three Acts

In conjunction with the exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, on view February 28 through June 3, 2012, curator Rebecca Rabinow discusses the 1934 opera Four Saints in Three Acts composed by Virgil Thomson, with a libretto by Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein: After all, when you say they do not understand Four Saints, what do you mean? Of course they understand or they would not listen to it. You mean by understanding that you can talk about it in the way that you have the habit of talking, putting it in other words, but I mean by understanding enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you understand it.

Rebecca Rabinow: Hi, I'm Rebecca Rabinow, a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gertrude Stein began collaborating with her friend, the American composer, Virgil Thomson, in early 1927 on a piece that would become the opera Four Saints in Three Acts. Virgil Thomson composed the music based on the libretto written by Gertrude Stein and every word that Gertrude wrote, including the stage notes, became part of the performance. The sets and costumes were designed by Florine Stettheimer, who was picked for her high camp aesthetic. When Gertrude's friend Mabel Weeks first heard it performed in Virgil Thompson's home, she wrote to Gertrude and said, "It will finish opera just as Picasso has finished oil painting." The opera debuted in February 1934 at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, where it was performed to celebrate the opening of the first Picasso retrospective ever held in America. The production was a smash success and after its performance in Hartford, it was performed on Broadway in New York and then traveled to Chicago.

Audio clip and images of Gertrude Stein from Prepare for Saints, directed by Steven Watson, 1999

Courtesy of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Film Clips of the Opera Four Saints in Three Acts from Virgil Thomson Composer, directed by John Huszar, 1980

© 1980 FilmAmerica, Inc.®

Related Videos