Floyd’s Susannah is Staged in St. Louis
Carlisle Floyd’s classic American opera Susannah is staged at Opera Theatre of St. Louis in June, directed by acclaimed soprano Patricia Racette.
On June 10-24, Opera Theatre of St. Louis stages Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah for the first time, directed by acclaimed American soprano Patricia Racette. The production stars soprano Janai Brugger as Susannah Polk, bass William Guanbo Su as Olin Blitch, tenor Frederick Ballentine as Sam Polk, and tenor Christian Sanders as Little Bat McLean, all led by conductor Gemma New. Racette herself starred as Susannah in San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production, as well as in the world premiere of Floyd’s opera Cold Sassy Tree at Houston Grand Opera in 2000.
Susannah, one of the most performed American operas, was awarded the New York Music Critics Circle Award for Best New Opera in 1956. The libretto, written by Floyd himself, was adapted from the Apocryphal tale of “Susanna and the Elders." The story focuses on Susannah Polk: an innocent young woman in New Hope Valley, Tennessee, who is wrongfully viewed as a sinner by her Church community. The opera has been praised for its exploration of contemporary feminist themes.
In a recent interview with Opera News, Gemma New comments on the unexpected “happy ending” of the opera: “We don’t often end an opera with a scene of great happiness, especially with a tragic piece. But looking at life that way gives us such food for thought. The levels of emotion in tragedy help us to see everyday life differently. Often a piece touches on some of the frustrations in your own life—the things that keep you awake at night—and can help you to say, ‘Yes. I recognize that situation or that person. Let’s process this.’”
New also describes her admiration for Floyd’s “American sound”: “I find the way he uses a cappella for Susannah quite touching. When she starts off, she sounds naïve, but not in a silly way. In the opening of the aria ‘The Trees on the Mountain,’ she shines so brightly, and then you hear her with the harp. To me that sounds as if Floyd is presenting her as a spiritual, goddess-like creature who should not be tainted.”
Carlisle Floyd’s centennial is celebrated in June 2026.
Sat, June 10 at 7:30pm CT
Wed, June 14 at 7:30pm CT
Fri, June 16 at 7:30pm CT
Sun, June 18 at 7:30pm CT
Thu, June 22 at 7:30pm CT
Sat, June 24 at 12:30pm CT
Loretto-Hilton Center | St. Louis, MO
Cast & Creative Team
Gemma New, Conductor
Patricia Racette, Stage Director
Janai Brugger, soprano (Susannah Polk)
William Guanbo Su, bass (Olin Blitch)
Frederick Ballentine, tenor (Sam Polk)
Christian Sanders, tenor (Little Bat McLean)
More information at Experienceopera.org/Susannah
> Further information on Work: Susannah
Photo: Daneil Tchetchik