Opera: Something Old, Something New
Thomson and Stein working on their 1934 opera
Back in 1934, in nearby Hartford, CT, an organization called The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music financed the world premiere of Four Saints in Three Acts, an avant garde opera with music by Virgil Thomson and a libretto by Gertrude Stein. Performed with an all-black cast at the Hartford Antheneum, it opened on Broadway two weeks later where the first night audience “cheered itself hoarse” and Four Saints was “adjudged by the elect a masterpiece, a perfect masterpiece,” according to the next morning’s New York Times.
This Friday and Saturday at the Frank Gehry designed Fisher Center, the Bard College Conservatory of Music will present the first fully-staged production of the abridged, one-act version of the Four Saints, which Thomson condensed for a commercial recording in 1954. It shares a bill with the world premiere of David Bruce’s Conservatory-commissioned one-act opera A Bird In Your Ear, which has a libretto by Alasdair Middleton. Based on a Russian folk tale, Bird is a variation on the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.
Both operas are directed by Douglas Fitch, whose credits include visually arresting productions of Hansel & Grettel for the LA Opera [photo below] and Turandot for the Sante Fe Opera. Fitch has collaborated with designer Edourd Getaz on the set which is said to incorporate “an innovative live animation and projection technique.”
At rehearsals, David Bruce has been impressed by what his director is managing to do with the notoriously difficult Four Saints. As he writes on his blog, “Doug Fitch is bringing it all marvelously, zanily and suitably surreally to life.”