The Saint of Bleecker Street – Original Cast Recording 1955
The Place: The section of New York known as Little Italy The Time: Middle twentieth century ACT I Scene 1 – A cold-water flat on Bleecker Street. Good Friday afternoon. A group of neighbors has gathered, waiting for Annina to repeat her visions. Although some express incredulity, most of them are convinced that she truly relives the passion of Christ and that she can perform miracles, healing the lame and the blind. Don Marco, the priest, admonishes the crowd to be gentle with Annina. Semi-conscious, Annina is carried into the room and immediately narrates her vision of the Crucifixion. Her hands open as she faints, revealing the bleeding stigmata. The crowd jostles her hysterically, trying to touch her hands. Michele, Annina’s brother, bursts into the room and throws the crowd out. He accuses Don Marco of exploiting the hallucinations of a sick child. Scene 2 – A vacant lot on Mulberry Street. The following September. Annina and her friends are sitting in the empty lot. It is the Feast Day of San Gennaro. Carmela confides to Annina that she is to be married. Annina shares her vision of heaven with Carmela and Assunta. Maria Corona runs in, warning that the Sons of San Gennaro want to carry Annina at the head of their procession, taking her by force, if necessary. The ladies leave when Michele enters. He tries to persuade Annina that her visions are the delusions of a sick mind, but her faith is unshakable. As the procession is heard approaching, a group of young men enter, tie up Michele and carry Annina, frightened and helpless, to the waiting crowd. Michele curses them. The procession moves on, and as the last stragglers vanish, Desideria, Michele’s lover, enters and unbinds him. ACT II An Italian restaurant. The following May. At a wedding party for Carmela and Salvatore, Annina offers the happy couple her blessing. As the party moves to the banquet room, Desideria, uninvited, enters and demands to speak to Michele. She begs him to prove his love for her by taking her to the party, to forget his obsession with his sister. When Michele attempts to take her in, he is stopped by Don Marco and the guests. He comments contemptuously upon his people, afraid to admit they are Italian but not accepted as Americans. As the party breaks up, Desideria suddenly accuses Michele of being in love with his sister rather than with her. Enraged by the accusation, Michele stabs Desideria and runs from the restaurant. Comforted by Annina’s prayers, Desideria dies in her arms. ACT III Scene 1 – A subway station. A few months later. Don Marco has arranged a rendezvous between the fugitive Michele and the now desperately ill Annina. They meet but cannot communicate. Annina tells Michele she intends to take the veil before she dies. He begs her not to, but when she bids him farewell, he curses her and runs off. Scene 2 – The cold-water flat. A week later. The dying Annina, surrounded by the neighbors, waits anxiously for permission to take the veil. When Don Marco reveals that permission has been granted, Annina prepares herself for the ceremony. During the ritual, Michele bursts into the room, appealing to Annina’s love for him. She can no longer hear him. As Don Marco places the ring of faith upon her finger, Annina sinks soundlessly, ecstatically, to the floor, dead.
– Christopher Keene Taken from the original liner notes for LM-6032
The Saint of Bleecker Street is the fourth of the extraordinary operas created by Gian Carlo Menotti (born 1911) between 1946 and 1954 with which the composer has left an indelible mark upon the history of opera and musical theater in America. The critical and commercial success of The Medium and The Telephone on Broadway in 1947 seemed to herald the beginning of a new era of serious operatic activity in this country. Not since Wagner had a single operatic practitioner combined so many talents: Menotti served as his own librettist, composer, stage director and impresario. Like Wagner, Menotti considers himself primarily a dramatist, utilizing his mastery of every resource of the operatic stage to accomplish his theatrical aims. The formidable success of his next opera, the gripping masterwork The Consul, confirmed the theatrical genius of the composer, earning him his first Pulitzer Prize. Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first opera composed expressly for the relatively new medium of television, reached millions of viewers on Christmas Eve of 1951 and immediately achieved a secure place in musical holiday tradition. While these works played to audiences all over the world in numerous languages, the composer mounted his most ambitious work to date, The Saint of Bleecker Street, which opened on December 27, 1954, at the Broadway Theatre. The opera represented Menotti’s most determined assault on the commercial theater, employing all the elements of grand opera. Like many of his forebears, Menotti composes and orchestrates at the last moment. The cast began rehearsing the first acts before the last were composed. The producer threatened to perform the last act with two pianos rather than release the composer from his staging duties to complete the orchestration. Nevertheless, inspired by the power of the work, the meticulous staging of Menotti and the fiery musical preparation of the brilliant young American conductor Thomas Schippers (1930–1977), closely associated throughout his tragically short career with the music of Menotti, the hand-picked company (which read like a directory of the most promising young American talent of the day, offering such names as John Reardon, Richard Cassilly, Elizabeth Carron, David Poleri and Virginia Copeland as well as Menotti veterans Leon Lishner and Gloria Lane) offered a triumphant performance. The opera, despite the expense of large cast, chorus and orchestra, played for nearly a hundred performances, won the composer a second Pulitzer Prize and reached the important opera houses of Europe within months of its opening in New York. The Saint of Bleecker Street is in every way larger than its predecessors in Menotti’s output. The text ranges over many subjects: the conflict of faith and skepticism, social outrage, incest, superstition and sociological observation. The ambivalent consequences of faith occupy a central position in all Menotti’s work: in The Medium, Baba is destroyed by the false belief she has engendered and exploited in her clients; in The Consul, faith in her husband’s cause and the possibility of escape drive Magda down the long road of anguish, madness and death; faith in Christ heals the crippled Amahl, but it leads the crusading children in The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi to enslavement and annihilation. Menotti explores the issue fully in The Saint of Bleecker Street: Michele denies the reality of his sister’s visions as violently as Annina and the people of the community affirm it. The obsessive loves of the brother and sister, opposite in nature but theatrically equal, doom them both. The composer is careful not to reveal his own theological position, leaving the viewer to draw his own conclusions. The undeniable dramatic power of Menotti’s work has led many critics to slight his immense gifts as a musician. His previous Broadway successes called, for economic reasons, for chamber orchestra and minimal chorus. In The Saint of Bleecker Street, Menotti, stimulated by the scope of his text, let loose his musical imagination, employing full symphonic orchestra and large chorus in composing a score of striking harmonic invention and frequently awesome grandeur. In an opera of such exceptionally rich musical rewards it is difficult to single out the most impressive moments, but the stigmata aria of Annina in the first act, with its hair-raising climax as she relives the Crucifixion; the massive procession of the chorus at the end of Act I, and the ecstatic musical ritual that concludes the work may surely take their place among the finest moments twentieth-century opera has to offer. If The Medium is Menotti’s most perfectly constructed work and The Consul his most humane, The Saint of Bleecker Street contains the largest share of his greatest music. The Saint of Bleecker Street proved to be Menotti’s last successful Broadway production. Thereafter, the composer turned his talents in other directions, accepting commissions as composer or stage director from the established opera houses of the world. His talents as an impresario and talent scout led to the establishment of the Spoleto Festival in 1958 (with its twin sister, Spoleto Festival USA, established in 1977 in Charleston, South Carolina), which absorbed large amounts of his attention and energy. His later operas include Maria Golovin (1958), The Last Savage (1964), The Most Important Man (1971), Tamu-Tamu (1973) and The Hero (1976). The welcome re-release of this recording makes available to the public once more not only an outstanding performance of an important work but a document of a pivotal moment in the history of opera in America as well. – Christopher Keene, February 1978
Assunta: Catherine Akos Carmela: Maria di Gerlando Maria Corona (a newspaper vendor): Maria Marlo Her dumb son (about 16 years old): Ernesto Gonzalez Don Marco (a priest): Leon Lishner Annina: Gabrielle Ruggiero Michele: David Poleri Desideria: Gloria Lane Salvatore: David Aiken Concettina, a child: Lucy Becque A Young Man: Reid Shelton An Old Woman: Elizabeth Carron Bartender: Russell Goodwin First Guest: Keith Kaldenberg Second Guest: John Reardon A Nun: Dorothy Krebill A Young Priest: Robert Barry Conductor: Thomas Schippers Music and Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti