Major Operas | Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson | Modern Era

Composed: 1927–28
Premiered: 1934, Hartford, Connecticut
Libretto by Gertrude Stein with scenario by Maurice Grosser


The saints are introduced. Note that St Teresa of Avila is sung by two performers (soprano and contralto).

Act I

Seven tableaux involving St Teresa II, described as a ‘Pageant, or Sunday School Entertainment’, are revealed behind a curtain on the steps of Avila Cathedral. She paints Easter eggs, talking with St Teresa I. St Settlement takes her photograph holding a dove. St Ignatius Loyola serenades her. He offers her flowers. They admire a model of the Heavenly Mansion. She is shown in ecstasy. She rocks an imaginary child in her arms.

Act II

The formally dressed Compère and Commère comment on a garden party in the country near Barcelona. There is a Dance of Angels and St Chavez organizes a game. The saints look at the heavenly mansion through a telescope, which St Ignatius refuses to give back to St Teresa I. St Chavez consoles her.


St Ignatius is mending fishing nets in a monastery garden on the coast near Barcelona. Both St Teresas and St Settlement discuss the monastic life with St Ignatius. They see a vision of the Holy Ghost and St Ignatius reproves those who doubt the vision and predicts the Last Judgement. There is a storm and then the saints process out, chanting.

Act IV

The Compère and Commère are arguing whether there should be a fourth act. The saints, now in heaven, recall their earthly lives. The Compère sings ‘Last Act’, and the saints reply, ‘Which is a fact’.

Personalities | Virgil Thomson | Modern Era | Opera


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