Sacco and Vanzetti

three-act opera
begun by Marc Blitzstein,
completed by Leonard Lehrman,
commissioned originally by
The Ford Foundation
for The Metropolitan Opera;
completion commissioned in part
by The Puffin Foundation;
copyright by The Estate of Marc Blitzstein;
dedicated (by Lehrman) to Robert M. Palmer
(who met with & advised both composers on the opera);
libretto based on letters, transcripts, etc.
re 2 Italian immigrant anarchists, their arrest, trial,
and execution in Massachusetts for crimes they did not commit;
premiered in concert by The White Barn Theatre,
Westport CT, Aug. 17-19, 2001
conducted from the piano by Leonard Lehrman.
Photos by Luke DeLalio.

Publisher: Theodore Presser

Click here for list of sources used in completion.

Watch the final performance of Aug. 19, 2001,
videotaped by Benjamin Spierman:
complete, or in segments:

Act I Scene 1 Prologue
Act I Scene 2 Sacco's Home, 1920
Act I Scene 3 Pt1 Garage
Act I Scene 3 Pt2 Arrest
[Act I Scene 4 was cut.]
Act I Scene 5 Pt1 Police Station
Act I Scene 5 Pt2 D.A. Katzmann's Monolog
Act I Scene 6 Pt1 First Prison Visit
Act I Scene 6 Pt2 Act I Quartet Finale

Act II Scenes 1&2 Memorial Day Parade, Court
Act II Scene 3 Prison
Act II Scene 4 Court
Act II Scene 5 Pt1
--incl. Sacco's "The Whole Shoe"
Act II Scene 5 Pt2
--incl. Sacco's "With A Woman To Be"

Act III Scenes 1&2 Appeals, Books
Act III Scene 3 Sentencing, 1927
Act III Scene 4 Vanzetti's Statement
Act III Scene 5 Pts1-4 Gov. Fuller
Act III Scene 5 Pts5&6 + Scene 6 Pts1-6
--incl. Mary Donovan; Gov. Dukakis (1977)

Three excerpts were also performed at the
2012 Halifax Summer Opera Workshop:
With a Woman to Be - Pedro Arroyo
Mary Donovan - Kelsey Vicary
Torremaggiore-Villafalletto Trio -
Pedro Arroyo, Rachel Wood, Alexander Wilson -
all accompanied by Leonard Lehrman.
The Trio, based on the music of "The Hills of Amalfi"
from Blitzstein's Reuben Reuben, originated as a duet on,
and written & premiered in, Torremaggiore.
Helene Williams & Leonard Lehrman perform it here.

Watch the Symposium on Sacco and Vanzetti
at The White Barn Theatre, Aug. 18, 2001:
Introduction by Vincent Curcio
Opening Speech by Joan Peyser
Speech by Leonard Lehrman
Speech by Robert Palmer
Speech by Brenda Lewis
Speech by Anton Coppola
Q&A Part 1
Q&A Part 2

Read a transcript of the Symposium here.

Press comments:

Daniel Felsenfeld,
"The power of the completed Sacco and Vanzetti
.... shone through... as an event of this magnitude deserves."

Joseph Pehrson, The New Music Connoisseur:
"It was as if, miraculously,
Marc Blitzstein arose from the dead
just to complete this important work."

Tom Nissley, The Ridgelea Reports:
"a tour de force...
Gregory Mercer
's fine tenor voice haunts and captivates as Nicola Sacco. James Sergi also convinces us completely in the role of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, so complex, so dedicated. Sergi's rich voice rises to fill the role, which has the gamut of sympathetic emotions from rational fear to self-righteous anger, revenge and, ultimately, a resolved kind of forgiveness. Monica Harte's magnificent Rosa Sacco will go home with you, and that is true also of Tammy Hensrud's Elizabeth Glendower Evans.
From first note to last I trembled at Robert Osborne's rich basso
as the district attorney. In the courtroom his singing blended
with Steven Tharp's powerful tenor as Judge Thayer,
and Tara Venditti's clear mezzo rendering of the clerk.
Baritone Lars Woodul and tenor Mark Wolff round out
this magnificent cast, along with soprano Helene Williams,
who is well established in Blitzstein and Lehrman roles."

Other comments:

Frank Corsaro:
"Your long, arduous work has resulted in an intriguing epic poem, a critical view of American justice. It's a devout work. It deserves its place."

E. Randahl Hoey:
"an opera of stunning intensity that feels and sounds like Blitzstein throughout."

Charles Osborne:
"a performance by a gifted and dedicated cast of a highly gripping and moving opera. This Sacco and Vanzetti is a work of tremendous size and scope, a challenging piece of theater that deserves to be performed. A masterpiece."

Brenda Lewis:
"Everything Marc [Blitzstein] wrote - everything - was just preparation for Sacco and Vanzetti.... This was a man for whom his art was his weapon, in trying to make a better world, and that was his whole life thrust. I don't care what philosophy you want to call it. But Marc's aim in life was to use what creativity, what came out of him, to say that there can be a better world. We can heal the breach: People don't have to prey on one another. I think if you will look at all his work, you will see that his whole heart, his thrust, his musical sense always said that to you. And in the most successful pieces, that message reached home. And that's why a man like Leonard, who was inspired by that message, and who I know has the same message in his life, that's why I think in a sense he felt drawn to these works, and I don't think he's had a moment's rest 'til he decided that he was going to finish Sacco and Vanzetti. He has done it, and I hope all of you will come and hear it. It is a powerful work."

Mark Grant:
"The performers were wonderful."

Peter Dizozza:, 8/19/01:

"The Phenomenon of Leonard Lehrman -- a composer on the fringes of greatness... Leonard's muse, for the past 12 years, is the talented singer/actress Helene Williams. She is to him what Lotte Lenya was to Kurt Weill... I relate to him, and feel that my work is a product of being exposed and involved with his work.... There is iron within him.... He writes beautiful music and draws our attention to other work, particularly the work of Marc Blitzstein. He devotes his life to music and through it to other causes to which he's given his respect and which deserve our attention--Emma Goldman, the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, The Long Island Music Scene including Joel Mandelbaum, the performing genius of Tom Lehrer. I acknowledge him now for completing the opera begun in 1960 by Marc Blitzstein and left incomplete at his death in 1964, Sacco and Vanzetti."

Peter Dizozza,
"I was assistant conductor for Leonard Lehrman's Cantata setting the text of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg letters, entitled We Are Innocent. The Federal Government executed them, with the help of Roy Cohn, I believe, for managing to give Russia the bomb..., an amazing accusation given their level of education, and again, Julius and Ethel were caught feeling guiltily aware of feeling disagreeably sympathetic to communists during a gung-ho feeling period -- the American/Un-American Fifties.
So Leonard Lehrman musically ritualizes inflammatory lynchings, and his work clarifies our perception. Rather, he shapes our views. If you ask me, all I know of the subjects is from him. All I know of Americans in Japan is from Spielberg/Ballard's Empire of the Sun. All I know about Leo Frank I learned in the Harold Prince production of Parade. Huxley wrote The Devils of Loudun and Ken Russell illuminated it. Seeing a flawed man, innocent of the crime for which he is accused, executed, is a ritual. Will it never happen again? Let's learn from these re-enactments."

Sara R. Koritz:
"I am an active member of the Community Church of Boston, founded in 1920. The Church took an active role in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti until their execution in 1927. These two strands of my life merged into exciting expectation when I learnt that Leonard Lehrman's work on the opera, Sacco and Vanzetti, based on Marc Blitzstein's notes, had been completed. I immediately made arrangements to be present at the opening performance. We were elated by the concert, by the beauty of the music, and the clarity of the opposing positions expressed in the lyrics. I hope backers will be found to bring this opera to a wide public."

Terry Winter Owens:
"I found Dukakis's statement at the conclusion of Sacco and Vanzetti to be eloquent and most appropriate. I congratulate you for your wonderful work on this opera and your decision to end with the Dukakis quotation. I believe Marc Blitzstein would have expressed hearty approval of your work as well as for your decision to end the opera in this particular way."

Stephen Wadsworth (Bernstein collaborator) 11/26/16:
"The stage works of Marc Blitzstein are milestones in the development of American opera---even those he left unfinished. I studied Leonard Lehrman's completion of Sacco and Vanzetti, for example, with great interest and pleasure. It may not all be the work of Blitzstein himself, but how much better to hear a lovingly completed version than not to hear the piece at all! We listen all the time to Turandot, Lulu, La Clemenza di Tito, and the Monteverdi operas as completed and realized by others;
it's time to pay attention to one of the major operatic ventures in the American canon.

Stoughton, Massachusetts, May 1920.
Nicola Sacco (Gregory Mercer) consoles
Bartolomeo Vanzetti (James Sergi) on the death
of their comrade, Andrea Salsedo, who fell, or was pushed,
from the 14th floor of a N.Y. City police station.
"I think that we are next."
They decide to go with a friend in his car to pick up
anarchist literature that may be considered incriminating.

At the Elm Square Garage, where the car was left to be repaired,
Mrs. Johnson (Helene Williams) spots the men as Italians, and
tells her husband (Lars Woodul) to stall while she calls the police.

Arrested and brought to the Brockton police station,
Sacco and Vanzetti are fingered by reluctant witnesses
(Tara Venditti & Lars Woodul).

The defendants are visited in prison by
Elizabeth Glendower Evans (Tammy Hensrud)
and attorney John W. McAnarney (Lars Woodul),
who inform them that they are charged not with anarchism
but with robbery and murder.

Judge Webster Thayer (Steven Tharp) presides at the trial

in an atmosphere of jingoism,

following right after a Memorial Day parade.

Rosa Sacco (Monica Harte) visits
her husband (Gregory Mercer) in prison.

Sacco goes mad.

Guard Edward Miller (Steven Tharp) reads the confession of
Celestino Madeiros (Monica Harte), exculpating Sacco and
Vanzetti (James Sergi) of the crime.

Governor Fuller's commission--Harvard president
A. Lawrence Lowell (Steven Tharp),
Judge Robert Grant (Robert Osborne), and
M.I.T. president Samuel W. Stratton (Tara Venditti)--approve
the decision not to pardon the convicted Sacco and Vanzetti: "It
is a well known fact that all Italians lie and steal." "Just like Jews."

Aug. 1927 Reporter Philip Stong (Mark Wolff) brings hope
and telegrams of worldwide protest,
but Vanzetti (James Sergi) tells him:
"We will die.... That agony is our triumph."
Fifty years later, Governor Michael Dukakis exonerated them.

Six excerpts from the opera are printed in
The Marc Blitzstein Songbook,
published by Boosey & Hawkes;
five have been recorded commercially on CD:
"With A Woman To Be" is in volume 1
and was first recorded by Ronald Edwards
on Premier's A Blitzstein Cabaret, PR CD 1005;
Vanzetti's First Aria, the Sacco-Rosa Duet,
Sacco's Whole Shoe Aria, and Vanzetti's Last Statement
are all in volume 2 and were first recorded by
James Sergi, Gregory Mercer and Helene Williams on
Original Cast Records' Marc Blitzstein Songbook, OC 4441.
Mary Donovan's Aria concludes volume 3.

Message from former Massachusetts Governor
Michael S. Dukakis:
Thursday, August 02, 2001 3:47 PM

"Dear Leonard:

I'm delighted that the Sacco Vanzetti case is...
the subject of an opera. I hope it will take its place
in both the opera repertory and in the hearts and minds
of all Americans that care about justice and about how
we treat those who, like so many of our parents and grandparents,
came to this country seeking a better life
and an opportunity to contribute to their adopted country.

Sacco and Vanzetti would never have been convicted
under the Constitution and the rules of evidence
that are now the law of the land.
The trial was shot through with prejudice....

Good luck with the opera, and thanks for making
a great contribution to our understanding
of the real meaning of justice in America.


Michael S. Dukakis"