Release date: 8/12/2014
San Francisco Opera presents the Company premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s two-act opera Susannah September 6 at the War Memorial Opera House. Soprano Patricia Racette returns to San Francisco Opera in her role debut as the innocent, strong-willed and falsely accused young woman Susannah Polk. The all-American cast also includes bass Raymond Aceto as Reverend Olin Blitch, the itinerant preacher who targets Susannah as a sinner, and tenor Brandon Jovanovich as her hot-headed brother Sam Polk. This new production is created by director Michael Cavanagh and set designer Erhard Rom, who most recently brought their critically acclaimed Nixon in China production to San Francisco in 2012. Conductor Karen Kamensek, music director of Hannover State Opera, makes her Company debut. Susannah runs for five performances through September 21.
San Francisco Opera Presents Company Premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah,
September 6-21, War Memorial Opera House
Conducted by Karen Kamensek and Starring
Patricia Racette, Brandon Jovanovich and Raymond Aceto
New Production Directed by Michael Cavanagh
Composer and Librettist Carlisle Floyd Featured at
San Francisco Opera Guild Insight Panel, August 28
One of the most performed of all American operas, Susannah was the first score and libretto written by Carlisle Floyd to receive widespread attention. Loosely based on the Apocryphal story of Susanna and the Elders, Susannah features iconic music that evokes the work’s rural Appalachian setting.
Following its initial premiere at Florida State University in 1955, where Floyd was on faculty at the time, the work was immediately revived at New York City Opera in a production that was then taken to Brussels for the 1958 World’s Fair. Carlisle Floyd has written a total of 11 operas and is currently completing his twelfth, Prince of Players, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley has enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship with Carlisle Floyd, which resulted in the commissioning and premieres of three of the composer’s operatic compositions at Houston Grand Opera: Bilby’s Doll, Willie Stark and Cold Sassy Tree. In 1977, Gockley and Floyd worked together to found the Houston Grand Opera Studio young artist training program.
“It is my opinion that Susannah and the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess mark the two finest American operas ever composed,” stated David Gockley. “It brings me great joy and satisfaction to bring Carlisle’s important work to San Francisco Opera’s main stage season where it rightfully belongs.”
2014 marks Patricia Racette’s 25th anniversary at San Francisco Opera; the American soprano has performed more than 30 roles with the Company. She makes her role debut as Susannah, a pretty young woman raised in the deeply religious and insular community of New Hope Valley, Tennessee. In demand around the globe for her portrayals of iconic operatic heroines such as Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly) and Tosca (Tosca), Racette also has a long history of creating new roles, including Love Simpson in Carlisle Floyd’s Cold Sassy Tree, Leslie Crosbie in Paul Moravec’s The Letter, Roberta Alden in Tobias Picker’s American Tragedy, and the title roles of Picker’s Emmeline and Dolores Claiborne. Recent career highlights include her first time performing the title role of Salome at the Ravinia Festival, Tosca for both Turin’s Teatro Regio in Tokyo and the Metropolitan Opera (live in HD), and Maddalena in Andrea Chénier at the Met. In January 2015, Racette will make her fully staged role debut in the title role of Salome at Opera San Antonio and in April 2015 she is scheduled to appear as Nedda in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Pagliacci.
American tenor Brandon Jovanovich returns to San Francisco Opera as Susannah’s impulsive brother, Sam Polk, reuniting Jovanovich and Patricia Racette following their enormous success performing together in Madama Butterfly (2007) and Il Tabarro (2009). Jovanovich’s recent roles at San Francisco Opera include Lt. Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), Siegmund and Froh in the 2011 Ring cycle and the title role of Wagner’s Lohengrin. Of his Lohengrin, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “We knew he was good. I'm not sure we knew he was capable of this. In his debut as the mysterious, nameless knight . . . Jovanovich combined sweet-toned lyricism and ardent heroism in just the proportions required by this tricky role. His singing was thrillingly pure and tireless, his stage presence simultaneously tender and aloof.” Jovanovich’s other recent engagements include Don José in Carmen with Los Angeles Opera, the Dallas Opera, and Houston Grand Opera; Don José and the title role of Fidelio in Zurich; and the Prince in Rusalka at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Bass Raymond Aceto makes his role debut as Reverend Olin Blitch, the travelling preacher who falsely accuses Susannah of wrongdoing and is angered by her shamelessness. No stranger to many of opera’s greatest villains, Aceto’s repertoire includes Tosca’s Scarpia, Rigoletto’s Sparafucile, and Die Walküre’s Hunding, which he performed at San Francisco Opera in 2010. Opera News said of his Scarpia: “Raymond Aceto's powerful, pathologically evil baron could have carried the night on his own. The varying colors of Aceto's bass and the nuances of his acting brought realism and depth to the role.” Aceto’s recent engagements include Timur in Turandot at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Daland in Der fliegende Holländer with Arizona Opera; Zaccaria in Nabucco in Florence; and Scarpia in Bologna.
Hannover State Opera music director Karen Kamensek makes her San Francisco Opera debut conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this production. She has previously led productions at Opera Australia, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin’s Komische Oper, Bordeaux Opera, Dortmund Opera, Frankfurt Opera, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera, Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theater, and Stuttgart Opera, among others. A close collaborator with composer Philip Glass, Kamensek has conducted the world premieres of his works Orphée and Enfants Terribles. Ian Robertson is the director of the San Francisco Opera Chorus.
This new production premiere—directed by Michael Cavanagh with sets designed by Erhard Rom—moves the setting from composer Carlisle Floyd’s then-contemporary 1950s back one generation to the mid-1930s and a landscape shaped by the Great Depression and the American Dust Bowl. The production itself highlights the juxtaposition of Susannah, a beautiful child of nature, and the deeply religious and restrictive community she lives in. The stark planks and wooden boards that make up most of the crucial set elements are an allegory for a tamed forest—a lush natural setting transformed to a barren, denuded place by a community seeking to control what they don’t understand. Costumes are designed by Michael Yeargan and lighting is designed by Gary Marder.
These performances mark the official Company premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. For two performances in May 1964, Spring Opera Company—a company affiliated with and organized by San Francisco Opera to produce opera in the spring, when the main company wasn’t in season—performed Susannah at the War Memorial Opera House with Floyd himself as stage director. Western Opera Theater—a touring arm of San Francisco Opera that brought opera performed by young singers to communities throughout the Western United States—included Susannah as part of its 1977 tour.
Sung in English with English supertitles, the five performances of Susannah are scheduled for September 6 (7:30 p.m.), September 9 (7:30 p.m.), September 12 (7:30 p.m.), September 16 (7:30 p.m.), and September 21 (2 p.m.), 2014.
San Francisco Opera Guild Insight Panel Discussion, August 28
San Francisco Opera Guild will present an Insight Panel Discussion featuring composer and librettist Carlisle Floyd with members of the cast and production team from Susannah. The discussion will take place Thursday, August 28 at 6 p.m. in the Concert Hall at San Francisco Conservatory of Music (50 Oak Street). Insight Panels are free for San Francisco Opera members, subscribers and students with valid ID and $5 for the general public; tickets can be purchased at the door 30 minutes prior to the discussion.