WMU News

Opera 'Susannah' staged for six performances

Feb. 15, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Lust, jealousy, hypocrisy, seduction and revenge are all part of Carlisle Floyd's two-act opera "Susannah," sponsored by the WMU School of Music and set for one matinee and five evening performances Feb. 22 through March 2 in the Dalton Center Multi-Media Room.

This production of "Susannah" will serve as the West Michigan introduction of Carl Ratner, the School of Music's new director of opera.

Performances of "Susannah" are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23, Thursday, Feb. 25, and Friday and Saturday March 1 and 2. A matinee performance will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24. General admission tickets are $12 each. Students and senior citizens will be charged $6. Tickets are available through the Miller Auditorium Ticket Office at 269 387-2300 or toll-free 800 228-9858.

Carlisle Floyd based his two-act opera "Susannah" on the Biblical text from the Apocryphal story of Susanna and the Elders. He was also drawn to the story by its similarities to the political atmosphere of the 1950s in which Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communism reigned supreme. Drawing on his own upbringing in the rural South, Floyd set his tale in the mountainous regions of eastern Tennessee in the fictional community of New Hope Valley.

In the opera, Susannah Polk, an innocent and vivacious young woman, is jealously singled out by the Elders' wives at a community square dance where she is spotted by a traveling preacher, Olin Blitch, who has arrived to conduct a community revival meeting. Blitch takes an interest in Susannah, learns of her "story" from the Elders, and promises to pray for her soul. Susannah returns home from the dance in high spirits and dreams of leaving the small Tennessee community to explore the world. The next day she is bathing in a creek near her home when the Elders, who are looking for a place to perform the upcoming communal baptism, come across her and are aroused by the sight.

Unable to cope with these feelings, the Elders condemn her behavior as shameless and return to the village to denounce her, unbeknownst to "Susannah". Later that evening "Susannah" travels to town for a picnic supper at the church, where she is shunned and told that she is not welcome. Shocked and confused, she returns home and is confronted by Little Bat, the son of an Elder, who relates the story circulating about her and explains how he has been coerced by his parents to claim that "Susannah" has seduced him, thereby giving credence to the Elders' claims.

Act two begins with a despondent Susannah having become the object of public ridicule and lewd comments among the men of the community. The Elders have called for her to make a public confession of her guilt, and Blitch has encouraged her to attend that evening's meeting at the church. There he calls on sinners to repent of their sin, seek forgiveness, and be saved. As the atmosphere becomes more tense, he singles out Susannah to come forward and confess. In a trance she begins walking through the congregation. Suddenly, realizing what she's doing, she stops, lets out a scream in protest, and runs from the assembly back to her home.

Blitch follows her a little while later. Becoming sympathetic, he consoles Susannah and finds himself drawn to her physically. Overcome by his feelings, Blitch puts an arm around her and leads the exhausted Susannah into the house and seduces her. Horrified at what he has done, Blitch is overcome with feelings of guilt. He meets with the Elders and tries to convince them of Susannah's innocence without implicating himself. They rebuke him.

Blitch retreats to "Susannah" and begs forgiveness. She, too, rejects him, leaving him forlorn. The final scene opens with Sam Polk arriving home to his sister, Susannah. She tells him outright how Blitch seduced her. Enraged Sam grabs a gun and goes to the creek where Blitch is performing baptisms. A shot rings out and Little Bat runs to Susannah to tell her that Sam has killed Blitch. Sam flees the scene, and the enraged villagers make their way to Susannah's house. She confronts them with gun in hand and chases them off the property. The opera ends with Susannah standing in her doorway, alone.

Media contact: Kevin West, 269 387-4678, kevin.west@wmich.edu

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