Tirza True Latimer, Four Saints in Three Acts in One Program
“Eccentricity,” the quality of deviating from the norm and not being situated in the center, describes the unorthodox methodology of Latimer’s new book and its related Kadist event. At its heart lies a case study of the 1934 opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, which critics described as “queer” for numerous reasons. The libretto was written by Paris’s lesbian literary trouble-maker Gertrude Stein, score composed her protégé Virgil Thomson, décor designed by the New York magic realist and salonière Florine Stettheimer, with choreography by the fashionable Frederick Ashton. The opera was performed by an all African American cast and premiered to sell-out crowds in off-the-beaten-track Hartford, Connecticut.
Rather than attempting to reconstruct and analyze the performance itself, Latimer adopts an eccentric research approach, looking deeply at the souvenir program created by the opera’s mostly gay and entirely unconventional producers. The playbill sets the stage for the production in carefully calculated ways that enable us to speculate about the collaborators’ cultural agenda and their vision for modernism in America. At Kadist, an original copy of the Four Saints souvenir program is displayed and facsimiles are distributed. Latimer guides the audience in a page-by-page analysis of the program, which she views as an artistic event in and of itself: a manifesto of eccentric modernism. Latimer’s presentation is followed by a question and answer session moderated by writer Anton Stuebner.