"Ain’t it a pretty night! The sky’s so dark and velvet-like and it’s all lit up with stars. It’s like a great big mirror reflectin’ fireflies over a pond."
A musical drama in two acts and ten scenes
Libretto by the composer after the Apocryphal book of
the Bible of the same name
First performance: Tallahassee, Florida; Florida State University,
February 24, 1955
Sung in English with English supertitles above the stage
July 3, 7 & 16, 2010
July 11, 2010
Susannah was premiered at Florida State University in 1955 where the composer
was on the staff. It premiered in New York on September 27, 1956, with
Phyllis Curtin in the title role for New York City Opera. Since then,
it has been performed by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan
Opera. The story, despite its symbolic parallel to Susannah and the
Elders, is a tale about the South in the 1930s. Its dramatic appeal
is simple and its musical inspirations strongly influenced by American
folk idioms and country music.
Floyd received the New York Critics’ Circle Award for Susannah as the “Best Opera of 1956.” Among his several other operatic works are Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, The Passion of Jonathan Wade, Bilby’s Doll and, most recently, Cold Sassy Tree, which premiered in Houston in April 2000. Des Moines Metro Opera last produced Susannah in 1976 and had a great popular success with Of Mice and Men in 1985.
People of New Hope Valley
Cast and opera are subject to change without notice.
Scene 1: A Monday night in the yard of New Hope Church
Susannah Polk, a striking, independent young girl, is one of the high spirits at the church square dance. She is admired by the men, but the women find her too pretty for her own good. The Reverend Olin Blitch, the evangelist in residence for a week, appears on the scene and particularly enjoys dancing with Susannah.
Scene 2: In front of the Polk farm house the same night Little Bat McLean, the McLeans’ shifty-eyed and mentally slow son who worships Susannah, walks her home. Susannah talks about the dance and the beauty of the night, but Bat runs away when her older brother Sam, regarded by the community as a drunk and ne’er-do-well, comes out of the house. The brother and sister share a moment of simple contentment.
Scene 3: A woods close to the Polk place the next morning
The next morning the Elders from the church wander onto the Polk property looking for a creek for baptismal ceremonies. Through the trees they spy Susannah bathing. They are, in turn, fascinated and outraged and quickly spread the news of Susannah’s indecent exposure.
Scene 4: The same evening in front of New Hope Church Susannah, blissfully unaware of the Elders’ presence at her early morning bath, presents food for the church supper that evening and is rebuffed.
Scene 5: A half hour later at the Polk place
Little Bat later tells her about all of the rumors circulating. He adds that he was bullied into saying Susannah allowed him to make love to her. Angry, Susannah drives Little Bat from the yard. Sam emerges from inside to comfort her.
Scene 1: Friday morning at the Polk place
Sam tells Susannah that he’s going out trapping and will be back the next day at sundown. He asks her to go to the “meetin’” that night to show the people of the valley that she’s not afraid. At first she refuses but finally she acquiesces.
Scene 2: The interior of the New Hope Church
Blitch preaches an emotionally charged sermon that ends with urging Susannah to publicly confess her sins. She starts down the aisle but then runs from the church.
Scene 3: About an hour later at the Polk place
Alone at the farmhouse, Susannah is despondent. Blitch comes to see her but his talk about her soul quickly changes to his own loneliness and he tenderly takes her in his arms and leads her into the house.
Scene 4: Saturday morning in the New Hope Church The next morning, after assaulting the girl and realizing her innocence, he prays for forgiveness and calls the Elders together to proclaim to them that the Lord has told him of the error they have made and that they must apologize to Susannah. The people will have no part of this revelation and leave the church.
Scene 5: Sundown at the Polk place
Sam returns drunk; Susannah tells him all. While she gets supper, he grabs a rifle and kills Blitch, who is baptizing in the nearby creek. Little Bat runs screaming to Susannah with the news of the murder and her brother’s flight. Susannah drives the threatening mob and Little Bat from the place with a rifle and begins a life of exile and inexorable loneliness.