Notes and Editorial Reviews
Verismo was alive and well in the USA in 1955. Susannah is as much a ''shabby little shocker'' as Tosca ever was. Somewhere there is a thesis to be written about the theme of religious and political hypocrisy as the main spur for American drama and opera. The moment one hears the barn-dance violins in the opening scene, one can anticipate the usual characters—malicious gossipy housewives, randy preacher, wronged maiden and drunken boy-gone-wrong. Susannah was a remarkable achievement for Carlisle Floyd, aged 29. Despite other successes (notably Of Mice and Men), it remains his most frequently performed work, having notched up 150 productions in the USA, as well as a few in Europe, since its Tallahassee premiere nearly 40 years ago. It is
easy to see why it has remained in the repertory of opera companies and music schools. It is a strongly constructed melodrama with an important chorus contribution and three big roles, which are nevertheless not that difficult to cast: the heroine, Susannah, her brother Sam, and the visiting Bible-belt preacher, Blitch.
The orchestration is lush and romantic, shot through with veins of American folk-song recalling the works of Copland and Thomson, yet the idiom remains firmly entrenched in Puccini-esque style. The confrontation between Susannah and Blitch is unashamedly reminiscent of that between Minnie and Rance in La Fanciulla del West. Elsewhere there are some little orchestral puns, including a woodwind tremolo figure that recalls the moment before Salome kisses John the Baptist's head in Strauss's Salome. (A little joke, surely, for so much of the talk in Susannah revolves around the baptism in the same stream as that in which the Elders have glimpsed her bathing.)
The relocation of the Apocryphal story to Midwest America is quite acceptable and in the immediate post-McCarthy era in the USA must have been quite topical. Nagano conducts a performance which seems to accentuate the work's romantic affinities. Studer is utterly convincing in the title-role, despite having recorded it separately from the rest of the cast (see page 21). Her Act 2 aria, ''The trees on the mountains are cold and bare'' is the highlight of the recording. As Blitch, Ramey does not have a comparable set piece but he seems believable, and as Sam, Hadley joins Studer in the only light moment in the opera, the duet about a Jaybird.
While it's all a rip-roarin' feast of blood-letting and fierce conflict among the smalltown folk, the libretto ultimately fails to hold one's interest, partly because of the cliched language and because the music does nothing to bring the crucial characters of the Elders and the gossips to life. They remain Grand Guignol figures. Susannah is an important work within the history of modern American opera, and it is good to have it available in such an accomplished recording. I can't say that it made me want to see it staged very urgently, but it will be interesting to see if this set prompts a new wave of interest in Floyd's work.
-- Patrick O'Connor, Gramophone [10/1994]
Works on This Recording
Susannah by Carlisle Floyd
Cheryl Studer (Soprano),
Jerry Hadley (Tenor),
Steven Cole (Tenor),
Della Jones (Mezzo Soprano),
Kenn Chester (Tenor),
Anne Howells (Mezzo Soprano),
Samuel Ramey (Bass),
Jean Glennon (Soprano),
Elizabeth Laurence (Soprano),
David Pittsinger (Bass),
Stuart Kale (Tenor)
Lyon Opera Orchestra,
Lyon Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1954; USA
Date of Recording: 1994
Length: 94 Minutes 37 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Act II, Scene 1: "How long's it gonna last, Sam"
Susannah, Act One: Opening Music
Susannah, Act One, Scene 1: It's a hot night for dancin'
Susannah, Act One, Scene 1: I am the Reverend Olin Blitch
Susannah, Act One, Scene 2: Was y'ever at such a nice square dance, Little Bat?
Susannah, Act One, Scene 2: Ain't it a pretty night?
Susannah, Act One, Scene 2: Don't go to bed right yet, Sam
Susannah, Act One, Scene 3: That crick oughta be right about here
Susannah, Act One, Scene 4: I ain't surprised
Susannah, Act One, Scene 5: Little Bat, what you doin' here?
Susannah, Act One, Scene 5: Feeble-minded idjet!
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 1: How long's it gonna last, Sam?
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 2: Are you saved from sin
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 2: I'm fixin' to tell y'bout a feller
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 2: Come, sinner, tonight's the night
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 3: The trees on the mountains are cold and bare
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 3: That's mighty pretty singin'
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 3: I'm a lonely man, Susannah
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 4: Hear me, O Lord, I beseech Thee
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 4: Brethren an' sister'n
Susannah, Act Two, Scene 5: Hey there, little robin, I'm back agin
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