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FIRST LOOK: '27' the Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas Opera

By Jerry Portwood

Photography by Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Twenty-Seven premiered this week at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the opera that tells the story of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and their legendary Paris Salon that played host to geniuses of the 20th century, including Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Matisse. Composed by Ricky Ian Gordon, the new opera stars the renowned singers Stephanie Blythe and Elizabeth Futral as Stein and Toklas, respectively. As the company's artistic director James Robinson told us earlier: “It’s fantastic that right here in the middle of the country we’re doing these things and people are just fine with it." 

So far, it seems the community is enjoying the production. As Sarah Bryan Miller writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"Blythe is a force of nature whose large frame supports a stupendous voice of great range. She made an utterly believable Stein, secure in her absolute rightness, hilarious and sometimes cruel in her epigrams. ('I’ve met many geniuses in my time,' she tells Man Ray. 'You, my dear, are a photographer.') She surrenders in a belated trial of conscience, over the way in which she and Alice survived the horrors of World War II as American Jews in Vichy France."

She also notes: 

"Singers love Gordon’s music because he knows what works vocally and what doesn’t, and because he cares about getting it right. He has said that he hopes to see the day when opera and musical theater meet, and 27 helps to bring it closer. There are hummable tunes and recurring themes, drama and sweetness, in a well-wrought score. Vavrek is Steinian without stealing Stein and keeps the story moving, for a clever, witty libretto."

Here are a few production photos from the premiere. For more information, visit St. Louis Theatre Opera's website.

Elizabeth Futral as Alice B. Toklas and Stephanie Blythe as Gertrude Stein

Theo Lebow as Fernande, Elizabeth Futral, Tobias Greenhalgh as Madame Matisse & Daniel Brevik as Marie Laurencin

Elizabeth Futral as Alice B. Toklas, Theo Lebow as Pablo Picasso, Stephanie Blythe as Gertrude Stein, Tobias Greenhalgh as Leo Stein, and Daniel Brevik as Henri Matisse

Tobias Greenhalgh, Theo Lebow, and Daniel Brevik as paintings with Stephanie Blythe as Gertrude Stein

Daniel Brevik, Theo Lebow & Tobias Greenhalgh as soldiers with Stephanie Blythe & Elizabeth Futral

Theo Lebow, Tobias Greenhalgh & Daniel Brevik as paintings with Stephanie Blythe and Elizabeth Futral 

Theo Lebow as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Daniel Brevik as Ernest Hemingway

Tobias Greenhalgh as Doughboy and Stephanie Blythe as Gertrude Stein

Elizabeth Futral as Alice B. Toklas and Theo Lebow as Pablo Picasso

27 continues through June 29 at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

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