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In 2011, I had the good fortune of meeting Carlisle Floyd when I was working on a production of The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair in South Carolina at Winthrop University. I was stunned by how down-to-earth, approachable, and kind this operatic genius was and how well we hit it off from the very first meeting. Two years later, our paths crossed again, this time in North Carolina, and I was astounded that the octogenarian recognized and remembered me and the conversation we had two years prior. This started an amazing and unique journey that allowed me to work directly with Floyd as I wrote my dissertation, The Re-Making of an American Opera exploring his lesser-known works of the 1960s. The culmination of my DMA brought Floyd and his family to spend a week with me in Columbia, South Carolina to be present for my lecture recital on The Passion of Jonathan Wade. This generous man spent the week working with students of composition, piano, opera and more in master classes and lectures, and he was ceremoniously honored in several ways during his time with us.


I have been very drawn to Floyd's lesser-known, more obscure works over the years. In fact, I have avoided the “Ol’ Girl Susannah” because it was such a famous opera and I felt that his other works needed more recognition and attention. After diving into this rich, dramatic work, I immediately regretted that it took so long to tackle this wonderful work. There is a reason it's the second most performed American opera of all time (right behind Porgy and Bess). We never had the amazing talent to produce Susannah that would do it justice… UNTIL NOW!!

Our setting for this production is 1959 rural Tennessee, in a small Appalachian mountain village called New Hope Valley. Audience members from the American South or Appalachia (like me) will recognize the characters and themes present throughout this show. The characters in Susannah demonstrate values that are important to communities in this part of the world. Their actions, for better or worse, are generally motivated by strong ties to their family or community, or from a deep-seated sense of the burdens and rewards of faith. These attitudes provide a glimpse of what life was like in the rural South in rural America during the decade that Floyd wrote this McCarthy Era piece.


Set back and enjoy our show — It’s American opera at its finest!

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Dr. Joshua R. Wentz


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