Sceme4 Magazine | The Steiny Road To Operadom | Karren Lalonde Alenier
Karren LaLonde Alenier

Even through passion’s mud puddle:
A new opera on Stein’s first love affair

Word gets around whenever there is a new Gertrude Stein inspired piece. This news thanks to Dr. Wanda Corn:
May She/She May, an 18-minute chamber opera, by Peter Dayton premiered April 25, 2016, at the Peabody Conservatory (or Peabody Institute) of Music under the development and direction of Roger Brunyate.


What the Steiny Road Poet finds particularly interesting about this piece, which was written for graduate course work at Peabody, is how efficiently Dayton captures Stein’s last days at Johns Hopkins medical school and her psychological turmoil over May Bookstaver, Stein’s first same sex lover.


Three real life characters populate Dayton’s opera: Gertrude (Stein), May (Bookstaver), and Mabel (Neathe). Mabel is also intimately involved with May. In Scene 1, Gertrude complains about the medical school teachers who aren’t allowing women unfettered study [the health and diseases] of women.



Those hostile Hopkins tyrant teachers,

Those hippocratic hypocrites:

Teaching women, but only to men!

What keeps a woman

From studying women?

If men may-






May study women, Mabel: And women may not,

May study their bodies and minds,

And women may not,

Mabel, may not a woman know herself?


MABEL [to herself]

Do you, Gertrude?



It is a deadlock.

I may leave, go abroad, withdraw,


[from Scene 1 where Gertrude is visiting Mabel’s apartment]


In Scene 2, May asks Gertrude “Could you track your moral sense/even through passion’s mud puddle?”


Throughout the opera, Dayton uses Mabel as a narrator to connect events across time relative to the relationship between Gertrude and May.


After a period apart, Gertrude writes to May:



May, this letter finds me changed,

As the sun, May, comes with spring!

It’s been so long,

My pen has kept me strong.

But I’ve come into flower,

Into full-throated bloom!

May, may I come to your room?

I am your rose, your rose-hued,


[from Scene 4]


In an an email written June 13, 2016, Dayton explained how he got interested in Stein through a lover who introduced him to the corrected Stanzas in Meditation (edited by Susannah Hollister and Emily Setina with introduction by Joan Retallack). dayton-cr“My interest and deep resonance with Stein's Stanzas coincided with this Opera Etudes project, a collaborative program at the Peabody Institute, from which I recently received my Master's. The theme of this project was Baltimore, so I chose this episode from Stein's life when she was in Baltimore, at Hopkins.”

Not many composers can write acceptable libretti. Dayton said in a phone interview June 14, 2016, that he “Looks toward Stephen Sondheim and his use of internal rhyme. Sondheim’s rhyme doesn’t sacrifice cognitive meaning.” Dayton said he himself writes poetry but he has not pursued publishing his poems.


As to his music, Dayton takes inspiration from Maurice Ravel as in “L'enfant et les sortilèges” (“The Child and the Enchantments”) and Aaron Copland’s “12 poems of Emily Dickinson.” YouTube has a rudimentary record of the premier of May She/She May.


What’s next for this young composer is participation as a featured composer at the Wyoming Festival in Grand Teton National Park. For this festival, Dayton is composing a work for solo double bass. Future projects may draw inspiration from Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle” and Tennessee Williams’ short story “One Arm.” Because Peter Dayton does his homework and digs in deep, Steiny recommends this composer/librettist as an artist to follow.

Post Your Comments
About This Article Here

Share This Page

View other readers’ comments in Letters to the Editor

Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier

Karren LaLonde Alenier's most recent book is
The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. She is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
Read her Blog.
For her other commentary and articles,
check the Archives.

©2016 Karren LaLonde Alenier
©2016 Publication Scene4 Magazine


The Steiny Road
Scene4 Magazine - Karren Alenier - The Steiny Road To Operadom |
A complete index of all of
Karren Alenier’s columns
in Scene4 with links.
Click Here for Access



July 2016

Cover | This Issue | inView | inFocus | inSight | Perspectives | Comments | Blogs | Contact Us | Recent Issues | Special Issues | Masthead | Contacts&Links | Submissions | Advertising | Subscribe | Books | Your Support | Privacy | Terms | Archives

Search This Issue


Search The Archives



Share in Facebook


Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine - International Magazine of Arts and Media. Copyright © 2000-2016 AVIAR-DKA LTD - AVIAR MEDIA LLC. All rights reserved. Now in our 17th year of publication with Worldwide Readership in 141 Countries and comprehensive archives of over 9000 web pages (36,000 print pages).

Scientific American -
Penguin Books-USA
Character Flaws by Les Marcott at
Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine