Music by Carlisle Floyd

Libretto by the composer

In the backwoods of Tennessee, a beautiful young woman is accused of indecent behavior after she is discovered bathing naked in a stream. Will the charismatic traveling preacher who sets his sights on her soul be her salvation, or her downfall? Carlisle Floyd’s all-American score, which beautifully evokes the work’s rural Appalachian setting, “is unabashedly neo-Romantic” (The New York Times). The radiant Patricia Racette sings the title role, with Brandon Jovanovich as her brother and Raymond Aceto as the hell-raising itinerant preacher. Conductor Karen Kamensek makes her San Francisco Opera debut in this eagerly awaited Company premiere directed by Michael Cavanagh (Nixon in China, 2012).

Sung in English with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 2 hours including one intermission

Pre-Opera Talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Opera House in the Orchestra section, 55 minutes prior to curtain.

San Francisco Opera production

Costumes owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. The costumes in Susannah are made possible by a generous gift from Abbott Laboratories to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and from Philip Morris Companies, Inc. to Houston Grand Opera as sponsor to its Opera New World program.

Audio excerpts ©Virgin Classics 1994 (724354503924) / performed by Orchestre de l’Opèra de Lyon; Kent Nagano, conductor
“Ain’t it a pretty night?”/Cheryl Studer (Susannah); “The Trees on the mountain”/Cheryl Studer; “Hear me, O Lord, I beseech Thee”/Samuel Ramey (Olin Blitch)


Susannah Polk Patricia Racette
Sam Polk Brandon Jovanovich
Rev. Olin Blitch Raymond Aceto
Mrs. McLean Catherine Cook
Little Bat McLean James Kryshak *
Mrs. Hayes Jacqueline Piccolino
Mrs. Gleaton Erin Johnson
Mrs. Ott Suzanne Hendrix
Elder Hayes Joel Sorensen
Elder Gleaton A.J. Glueckert
Elder McLean Dale Travis

Production Credits

Conductor Karen Kamensek *
Director Michael Cavanagh
Set Designer Erhard Rom
Costume Designer Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer Gary Marder
Fight Director Dave Maier
Chorus Director Ian Robertson

* San Francisco Opera Debut


New Hope Valley, Tennessee

At a square dance hosted by her church, the beautiful Susannah is the object of gossip: the congregation’s pious womenfolk take exception to the attention that she attracts, observing that it is what they would expect of someone raised by her alcoholic brother. The newly arrived Reverend Olin Blitch ignores the gossip and asks Susannah to dance. Later that night, Susannah tells Little Bat McLean, a troubled young boy who follows her everywhere, about the dance, but he leaves quickly when Susannah’s brother, Sam, comes home from hunting.

The next morning, the church elders discover Susannah innocently bathing nude in the creek they plan to use for baptisms. They denounce her and trumpet her sin to the community. When Susannah arrives at a church dinner that night, she is ostracized and returns home in confusion. Little Bat explains that the elders are angry with her for bathing in the nude and confesses that they forced him to say that she seduced him. Sam, who has overheard their conversation, tries in vain to comfort her.


Sam, meeting with Susannah again, says she must attend a prayer meeting to satisfy the elders’ demands. Susannah goes to the church where Olin Blitch is preaching, even though she is innocent. Swept up in the fervent preaching and chanting, Susannah nearly “confesses,” but runs away at the last moment. After the sermon, Olin Blitch comes to her house and offers to pray for her. Discovering that Sam is away, Blitch wears down Susannah’s resistance and takes her into the house.

The next day, Blitch tries to seek forgiveness from Susannah when he realizes she was a virgin. Susannah refuses, and tells Sam what happened. He takes his shotgun and shoots Blitch at a baptismal ceremony. The church community, believing that Susannah has driven her brother to murder, converges on her house, but she repulses them with a shotgun. As they retreat, she is left alone.


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*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret-Taube Media Suite.


This production is made possible, in part, by Leslie and George Hume and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Ms. Racette’s appearance is made possible by a gift to the Great Singers Fund by Joan and David Traitel.

Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.