This article analyzes the relationship between language and music in the opera Four Saints in Three Acts, with libretto by Gertrude Stein and music by Virgil Thomson. Interweaving musicological and textual analysis, Frankfurt School and post-structuralist aesthetics, I situate the opera in relation to post-Wagnerian compositional practice and explore the ways in which Four Saints both invokes and resists Wagnerian nationalistic and aesthetic principles. I argue that the opera's most abiding tensions arise out of its concern with competing modes of temporality in lyric and narrative. Parodying ritual and the resulting cultic quality that historically characterized opera, Four Saints in Three Acts presents itself not as a unifying gesture of materials upon which a nation might be founded, but as the celebration of the impossibility of such claims of origin.


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pp. 723-744
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