Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media
Scene4 Magazine: Life Among The Heffalumps with Kathi Wolfe

This Book Is Jumpin'

Scene4 Magazine-inSight

december 2007

In the early 1980's, I became a friend of the late minister and composer Al Carmines.  Carmines found as much spirituality and energy in art as he did in religion.

That's why I liked attending his church services, on the 2nd floor of the Westside Arts Theater in New York City.  Each service was a performance–songs from Broadway and off-Broadway shows, poetry, dance and readings from plays.

The profane frolicked with the sacred, the tragic waltzed with the comic and the muses enjoyed the ride.  Carmines' passions ranged from Gertrude Stein to Bessie Smith to W.C. Fields.

Every Sunday, we'd sing "I leave you there, do not, do not despair, remain in a circle and do not despair" from "In Circles," Carmines' musical production using the texts of Gertrude Stein.  ("In Circles," will be performed in February at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan.)

I never expected to meet anyone so creatively obsessed with Stein or with such an inventive, playful, brilliant mind until I met my friend, poet Karren LaLonde Alenier, recent author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas.

Alenier, a.k.a. the Steiny Road Poet, known to Scene4 readers for her "Steiny Road to Operadom" column, finished reading Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas while riding the bus home from work.

Immediately, "I thought playground.  And suddenly my winterly landscape exploded with images from the amusement park," Alenier writes.

This set the Steiny Poet on her life-long "bumper car" ride with Stein. Alenier began writing poems about Stein. She performed her poetry in the old bumper car pavilion in Glen Echo Park, a former amusement park, in Glen Echo, Md. 

(Stein used cars and driving as metaphors, Alenier says, noting that she {Stein} "owned and operated a truck that she used as an ambulance during World War I.")

In 1982, Alenier traveled to Tangier, Morocco to work on her fiction writing with Paul Bowles.  (She had written 50 pages of a novel.)  Bowles told her that this wasn't enough to work with.  So they discussed her Stein poems. 

In 1983, at the Barns of Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., the Steiny Poet saw a production of Stein's second opera The Mother of Us All, written with Virgil Thompson.  This inspired Alenier to write a one-act play based on a famously "raucous" party that Picasso threw to honor Henri Rousseau.  "Legend has it that everyone got drunk since Picasso neglected to get the food on time," Alenier writes, "pranks were played on the elderly Rousseau, and a donkey ate Alice's feather fantasie from her hat."

After years of intense work, this one-act play became Alenier's opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, which had its premiere June 15-18 in New York City at Symphony Space Leonard Nimoy Thalia.

Alenier's new Steiny Road book is vivid and engaging on multi, overlapping--encircling levels.  It's the story of the making of her opera...of the drama of birthing a work...of the labor pains and joys of creative collaboration.

The Steiny Poet draws us into Gertrude and Alice and their circle....thrusts us into Stein's creative process, her struggle (as a female and avant-garde artist) to achieve respect for her work, her (personal and artistic) need for Alice's love and support–her pain when her brother Leo and so many others belittled her literary creation.

The book is a primer on American opera, that even the uninitiated like myself can understand.

Don't be afraid to read The Steiny Road to Operadom.  You don't have to know anything about Gertrude Stein, opera or the avant-garde to be enthralled by this book.

(I know a little about Stein but, I wouldn't know an aria if I fell over one.  One of my poems is entitled "Opera for the Tone-deaf.")

The Steiny Poet has done what's nearly impossible.  She makes us see the playfulness–the jazziness–that are integral not only to Stein's work, but to her own opera.

Some may wonder why Alenier, a hetero, has written an opera about Stein, a lesbian. This is not a question, that I, a lesbian and a poet, would ask.  First, all creative artists (gay or straight), as Alenier writes, need an Alice B. Toklas to provide love as well as emotional and practical support. Second, as The Steiny Road to Operadom makes clear, Stein possessed both genius and courage.  These are two qualities that all writers long for.  

Alenier, noting Picasso and Stein's "simultaneous approach to looking at the world from a variety of angles," calls for a "cubist education in a school of hard knocks." The Steiny Road to Operadom is the Harvard of the this hard knocks school.     

Get a jump early on....put some Ella in your Ipod and read this book.

The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas by Karren LaLonde Alenier $21.99 Unlimited Publishing LLC (available from the publisher at

Post Your Comments
About This Article

©2007 Kathi Wolfe
©2007 Scene4 Magazine

Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet in Falls Church, VA.
Her reviews and commentary have appeared in an array of publications.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine-International Magazine of Arts and Media

december 2007

Cover | This Issue | inFocus | inView | reView | inSight | inPrint | Blogs | New Tech | Links | Masthead Submissions | Advertising | Special Issues | Subscribe | Privacy | Terms | Contact | Archives

Search This Issue Email This Page

RSS FeedRSS Feed

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine - International Magazine of Arts and Media. Copyright © 2000-2007 AVIAR-DKA Ltd - Aviar Media LLC. All rights reserved.