Music and Lyrics by Carlisle Floyd
Artwork by CAP Designs with a photo by David Smith Photography

November 11 - 13 at 8 PM
November 14 at 2 PM
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From our Newsletter
Bigotry, sexual desire, stolen innocence, murder! Sound like the stuff of TV talk shows or the tabloid press? Composer Carlisle Floyd's twentieth century masterpiece "Susannah" is chockfull of the elements we have come to expect from grand opera. Yet this tale is told with a simplicity and directness that makes it utterly American.

Based on the Apocryphal story of Susanna and the Elders (which was also successfully set to music by George Frederic Handel), Floyd's version was written in response to the paranoia created by the political witch-hunts of the McCarthy era. The libretto (also by Floyd) tells of Susannah, a young girl from the mountains of Tennessee, who is ostracized by her community because of unfounded gossip and innuendo. The circumstances that ensue lead to a tragedy worthy of Verdi or Puccini.

Floyd's opera has experienced a revival of sorts lately. It has recently thrilled audiences of both the Houston Grand Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Last spring, the Metropolitan Opera in New York mounted a highly acclaimed production that featured soprano star Renee Fleming as Susannah, and bassist-extraordinaire Samuel Ramey as the traveling evangelist Olin Blitch.

"Susannah" is one of the few American operas to receive repeated play on stages throughout the world. Garnering the New York Music Critics Circle Award when it premiered in 1955, it has attained "classic" status since then for many opera companies a rare feat when one considers the short lifespan experienced by most modern operas. And "Susannah's" author is one of the rarest of all rare birds: a successful American opera composer.

Carlisle Floyd, born in Latta, South Carolina, in 1926, was just 28 years old when Susannah had its first performance. An immediate success, the score is richly textured and brimming with slices of Americana: square dances, hymn tunes, gospel anthems, and folk ballads. Melodic and accessible (Opera News says the work is abundant in "gratifying melody and tonal harmony"), "Susannah" bridges the gulf between opera and musical theatre. It is the second most-performed opera by an American composer, only after Gershwin's magnificent "Porgy and Bess." Floyd's other works for the stage are also held in high regard. His "Of Mice and Men" (which is based on Steinbeck's famous novel) last received glowing praise in 1997, when the Glimmerglass Opera gave it a stunning production.

It is worth noting that Floyd's works generally explore the lives of social outcasts. His 1958 opera "Wuthering Heights" features a grim, lonely Heathcliff; "Of Mice and Men" is about two working class misfits; and his 1981 opera "Willie Stark" is a tale about a corrupt backwoods politico. In "Susannah," we find a young, poor, uneducated woman who is trapped in the margins of a vicious little society in New Hope Valley, Tennessee. This fits the Floydian mold quite well.

The music is breathtaking. From the lushly beautiful 'Ain't it a Pretty Night?,' to the sadly haunting 'The Trees on the Mountain are Cold and Bare,' Susannah makes for a moving and memorable night at the opera.

written by Mona DeQuis, Manager of SKR Classical and Tom Loewe, publicity director of University Productions

Press Release

Click here to view the Susannah program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

Jennifer Larson in the title role Matthew Carroll and Jennifer Larson

Production Designs

Set design by Jeff Bauer

Prologue Square Dance, Act I Scene 1