Carlisle Floyd’s music drama Susannah at the IU Opera Theatre is the sort of piece that can make an opera lover out of an opera liker and it can make even an opera lover look with fresh eyes on the medium.
Carlisle Floyd wrote Susannah in a matter of just weeks and months when he was just twenty-eight years old. It has the energy and compressed drive of youth and at the same time a lot of sophistication in its accomplishment. Floyd’s Susannah is a dirt poor orphan girl living on the edge of a backwoods southern town. She’s an innocent on the outskirts of what almost seems to be a primitive Christian theocracy. Like her namesake in the apocrypha, Susannah is spied upon by the village elders while bathing. In the bible story they do it on purpose in Floyd’s version it’s an accidental encounter. In both cases the elders try to blame the victim of the intrusion for their own guilty thoughts. In the opera things are further confused as a visiting evangelist is drawn into the town’s hypocritical condemnation.
Saturday night’s cast did an inspired performance of this charming work. Jennifer Rice was a captivating Susannah in both a fine job with the lovely vocal part and in the intricacies of Susannah’s character. Lindsey Falduto was staunch and unwavering as a town matriarch in her powerful suspicions and doubts about Susannah. Scott Six’s tenor voice rang beautifully in his solo work and was a flexible partner in his duets with Sussanah as he played her feckless brother, Sam. The part of evangelist Olin Blitch was powerfully sung and subtly acted by Christopher Burchett.
Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah is an original but it has strong and deep roots in the Anglo American folk song and hymns that his work evokes. The IU production was conducted by guest Christopher Larkin. It features new sets and design by David Higgins and stage direction by Vincent Liotta.