Four Saint in Three Acts is not neccesarily a “black opera,” but it was first performed by an all-black cast. With a witty text by Edith Stein and music provided by Virgil Thomson (photo), the opera contains actually about 20 saints in its three acts.

The opera features two 16th-century Spanish saints — the former mercenary Ignatius of Loyola and the mystic Teresa of Avila — as well as their colleagues, both real and imagined. Stein, who was Jewish and gay, was fascinated by the saints of Catholicism. The plot is difficult to describe. In fact, the plot is not as important to the enjoy the work as the word-play created by Stein and set to music by Thomson. On opening night in 1934, the governor of Connecticut commented: “Well, you can’t read the damn stuff, but you certainly can sing it.” Basically, the action takes place in Heaven and the saints are attending a lawn party.

Either despite – or due to – the work’s eccentric combinations of styles (some described as Cubist meets Southern Baptist), the opera was a success. Four Saints in Three Acts has been recorded more than once and live performances still take place today.

More Blackness in Opera.