Susannah, a success at its premiere in 1955 and part of the repertory ever since, has an astonishing track record for an American opera. New and established audiences will find this work a breath of fresh air. It is pure Americana, a slice of life as it might have been in the South in the 1930’s.
According to one account it is so popular because it is beautiful, it is folksy and it is frighteningly relevant!
In composing the work, Carlisle Floyd, relatively unknown in 1955, somewhat recast the Biblical tale of Susannah and the the Elders, and is to have taken something from Somerset Maugham’s short story, Miss Thompson, as well. In any case, Floyd, himself a South Carolina native, captured the spirit of small town America with its familiarity, and also its intolerance.
To this gripping tale Floyd added memorable arias, rousing choruses, Puccini-like lyricism and the flavor of Broadway.
The opera is set in the fictitious Appalachian town of New Hope Valley, Tennessee. Susannah, a young pretty girl is singled out by the town Elders, the McLeans, Hayes, Otts and Gleatons as being a shameless girl. “What do you expect,” says Mrs. McLean, “from an orphan who is being brought up by her drunken brother?”
In fact, Little Bat McLean, somewhat backward, but nevertheless taken by Susannah, tells her that some Elders have seen her bathing nude in the stream. When she asks him why they had ostracized her, Little Bat admits that they made him say that Susannah had seduced him. Hurt and confused, she sends him away.
The Reverend Olin Blitch, an itinerant preacher, appears in town a day earlier than expected. The composer’s brilliance here lends a dynamic to the opera. The Reverend’s intention to baptize and to save is thwarted by Susannah’s beauty. Suffice it to say ‘temptation has its price.’
Soprano Adina Aaron (Don Giovanni & Carmen) is returning to sing the title role, as is tenor Matthew Chellis (Don Giovanni, Barber of Seville) who will sing the role of Little Bat.
They are joined by debuting artists Kenneth Gayle, tenor, singing the role of Sam Polk, Susannah’s brother. Baritone Daniel Okulitch sings the role of Reverend Olin Blitch. Baritone Peter Couchman is Elder McLean and mezzo soprano Paula Roediger is Mrs. McLean. Tenor David Gordon and soprano Jennifer Winn will sing Elder and Mrs. Hayes; soprano Olive Lynch and tenor Richard Hilton are Elder and Mrs. Gleaton. Mezzo-soprano Marybeth Hazel (Cavalleria, Barber) and baritone Kevin Grace (Barber, Carmen) will return as Elder and Mrs. Ott.
The Boheme Opera Chorus will appear as the town’s people.
This impressive production is directed by Benjamin Spierman. The costume designer is Meg Zeder, set designer is Meganne George, with wig, hair and make-up designer Patricia DelSordo. Lighting design is by Michael Voytko.
SUSANNAH at the Patriots theater of the War Memorial on April 28 at8:00 PM and April 30 at 3:00 PM. English supertitles! Pre curtain talks! Handicapped Accessibility! Prices: $28-$68 with discounts for groups of ten or more; and special student rates. Call the Box Office today! 609-581-7200 or visit www.Bohemeopera.com for details!