The Biblical story of Susannah and the Elders is updated to recent past
“He is a master of creating mood in the orchestra....” declared the Los Angeles Times about Carlisle Floyd, a South Carolina born composer and SC Hall of Fame inductee. Floyd is the 2004 National Medal of Arts and the 2008 National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honoree for lifetime work recipient. Opera at USC presents Floyd’s Susannah – 65 years since its premiere it stands as one of the most beloved American operas.
About Susannah, SFGate wrote, “The composer’s first mature opera, and still his best known, is a small marvel of ferocity and compassion....” The opera, sung in English, takes place at Drayton Hall Theatre (1214 College St.) on Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 3 at 3:00 p.m.
The music, characterized by Appalachian folk melodies, also includes some Protestant hymns and traditional classical music. A prominent part of the opera is Susannah’s soaring aria in Act II, "The Trees on the Mountain," similar to Appalachian folk tunes but is Floyd's own composition.
Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, director of Opera studies at the University of South Carolina, gives both graduate and undergraduates the opportunity to learn from a comprehensive program covering every facet of opera production, both on stage and behind the scenes.
Alumnus Daniel Gainey returns to the university to perform the character Little Bat and noted, “South Carolina has given generously of its talents to the operatic world. Carlisle Floyd and Ellen Schlaefer are two such gifts. It is an honor for me to return to SC professionally to help bring Mr. Floyd's music to life in Schlaefer's production. I hope this work can inspire the next generation of SC operatic talent."
The libretto, also written by the composer, has as its basis the apocryphal story of Susanna and the Elders, updated to the recent past and relocated to a fictional rural community. The drama centers on the unjust ostracizing and abuse of Susannah by her community and the powerful leaders who are simultaneously repulsed and captivated by her beauty.
Second year master’s student in Opera Theatre Melissa Starkweather, one of two students performing as Susannah says, “The opera explores themes of hypocrisy, fear and the malleability of crowds, all of which are extremely relevant to our society today. It is an exciting thing to be a part of a show which carries such a powerful message. Both the story and the music are absolutely gripping and will leave audiences with a new perspective on the power of fear.”
Senior choral music education and honors student Catherine Howland also plays Susannah. “Discovering the slow, harrowing transformation and internal struggle that Susannah experiences has been a challenge, but it has also been captivating. I have loved the opportunity to grow as a performer through this wonderful opera. Susannah warns us of the power of a community to do evil, but encourages us to consider how we can instead do good in our own community.”
Susannah has affected T.J. Turner (MM voice performance) who plays Sam, Susannah’s brother. He reflects, “People are ostracized and isolated every day, both for things they have done and things they haven’t. This show emphasizes the destruction and emotional turmoil it can cause for not only those who are accused, but also those who are doing the accusing, despite the reason. I think we can all identify with Susannah, but it’s important to take a step back and learn from what the other characters are doing to her (and her brother, Sam) throughout this masterpiece.”
Despite its serious issues, Susannah was received well and hailed as an instant classic at its world premiere in Tallahassee and later at the New York City Opera in 1956. The appeal of the opera has endured for more than six decades, a rare feat in operas composed in the 20th century. It attests to the composer’s uncommon ability to wed tuneful music with astute dramatic insights to create an opera of complex characters, emotional immediacy and thrilling narrative pace.
TICKETS NOW ON SALE!
Adults: $25; seniors/UofSC faculty & staff/military: $20; students with ID: $10. Purchase tickets online here or at the door. Please note that online and phone sales end at 3 p.m. on opening day. After that you may purchase at the door one hour before show.