Works By Novelists Flannery O’Connor & Gertrude Stein Are Now Operas
By LIDA TUNESI
Operas based on novels by two American women, Gertrude Stein and Flannery O’Connor, are now available as audio recordings.
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis commissioned Gatto to write the operas. He said he chose these books “after seeking authors and subjects engaging this bizarre experiment called America.”
The Making of Americans is a nearly 1,000-page volume following two American families. Stein’s modernist writing is repetitive and experimental, and incorporates “metafictional” sections in which the narrator addresses the reader directly. Her eclectic style is reflected in Gatto’s composition, which layers strings, electronic sounds, and recordings of spoken words.
Stein spent most of her life in Paris with her partner, Alice B. Toklas. An art collector as well as a writer, Stein was known for hosting salons frequented by the likes of Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.
Wise Blood tells the tale of a World War II veteran named Hazel Motes and his return home to the South. Motes’ encounters with eccentric characters and a series of wild events are woven together by his ongoing crisis of faith. O’Connor was also a Southerner, born and raised in Georgia, and a devout Roman Catholic. Critics sometimes use the word “grotesque” in connection with her Southern gothic stories, though O’Connor countered that they were often only realistic.
Gatto’s score for Wise Blood combines strings and brass to create an atmospheric, haunting, “glitch opera” that was originally performed as an immersive experience in an old factory-turned-gallery.
Turning shows conceived for the stage into pure audio recordings was a challenge. “Trying to make up for the missing visual stage information, I edited scenes, added things like sound effects and lots of studio effects,” Gatto said, “trying to make them autonomous as recordings rather than just documents of the live performances.”