Carlisle Floyd is one of the foremost composers and librettists of opera in the United States today. Born in 1926, Floyd earned B.M. and M.M. degrees in piano and composition at Syracuse University. He began his teaching career in 1947 at Florida State University, remaining there until 1976, when he accepted the prestigious M. D. Anderson Professorship at the University of Houston. In addition, he is co-founder with David Gockley of the Houston Opera Studio, jointly created by the University of Houston and Houston Grand Opera.
Considered the "Father of American Opera," Floyd’s operas are regularly performed in the US and Europe. He first achieved national prominence with the New York premiere of his opera Susannah (1953–54) by the New York City Opera in 1956. In 1957 it won the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award and subsequently was chosen to be America’s official operatic entry at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. In June 2020, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis stages a brand new production of Susannah, directed by Patricia Racette, who was herself an acclaimed Susannah. The production features soprano Susanna Phillips in the leading role and conductor Gemma New on the podium.
His second opera, Wuthering Heights, premiered at Santa Fe Opera in 1958, and continues to have life decades later—a critically acclaimed recording, released by The Florentine Opera in June 2016 on Reference Recordings, was listed in Opera News’ 10 Best Opera Recordings of 2016.
Based on the Steinbeck novella, Of Mice and Men (1969) is another of Floyd’s most performed works throughout the world. It was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and was given its premiere by the Seattle Opera in 1970.
Bilby’s Doll (1976) and Willie Stark (1981), were both commissioned and produced by the Houston Grand Opera, the latter in association with the Kennedy Center. A televised version of the world premiere production of Willie Stark opened WNET’s Great Performances series on the PBS network in September of 1981.
Cold Sassy Tree (2000), received its premiere at Houston Grand Opera in April 2000. Subsequently, it has been performed by Austin Lyric Opera, Central City Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Carolina, Opera Omaha, San Diego Opera, Utah Opera, and Atlanta Opera.
Floyd’s most recent opera, Prince of Players, premiered in March 2016 as a chamber opera by the Houston Grand Opera. In 2018, the Florentine Opera performed the work with a full orchestra, with Soundmirror recording the performance. The CD is scheduled for release in late 2019. His non-operatic works include the orchestral song cycle Citizen of Paradise (1984), which received its New York premiere with world-renowned mezzo-soprano Suzanne Mentzer. A Time to Dance (1993), his large-scale work for chorus, bass-baritone soloist, and orchestra, was commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association.
Among the numerous awards and honors Floyd has received include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1956); Citation of Merit from the National Association of American Conductors and Composers (1957); National Opera Institute’s Award for Service to American Opera (1983); and the National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House (2004). In 2008, Floyd was one of four honorees—and the only composer—to be included in the inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors. Additionally, he served on the Music Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1974–80 and was the first chairman of the Opera/Musical Theater Panel.
In 2001, Floyd was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He also was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame (2011) and the Florida Artist Hall of Fame (2015). He holds six honorary doctorates.
During the 2015–16 season, Floyd partnered with Opera America to produce "Masters at Work," a live, interactive webcast exploring the making of an opera.
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