Wolf Entice Opera’s Susannah: A Highly effective American Opera

I get caught up within the tales of immediately’s hottest operas, works from centuries in the past, however the lives in these tales are sometimes far faraway from mine.  Throughout a lot of Wolf Entice Opera’s efficiency of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah (1955) on Friday night time, I felt like a twelve-year outdated rising up in Georgia at one of many fundamentalist revivals I attended.  Certainly, the wooden-plank set blended completely with The Barns’ wooden development to make your complete venue appear a rustic church at instances, particularly with the intense, lit white cross that always dominated the middle of the stage.  That is an American Opera, simply relatable to my life.  In measure, it was my family on stage; I may nearly style the potato salad and banana pudding on the church social, and its themes rang true.

The composer Carlisle Floyd, skilled in piano composition and inventive writing, selected to be his personal librettist.  He was raised within the south in South Carolina.  His mom gave him piano classes and inspired him to write down quick tales.  His father was a Methodist minister, and the composer-to-be attended many revival conferences the place touring charismatic preachers used infected and compelling dramatics in calling sinners to the alter to repent their sins and obtain salvation.  Susannah displays that upbringing.  Mr. Floyd’s music, tailor-made to help theatrical productions, consists of folks songs, hymns, and dances.  Along with his compositions, Mr. Floyd sought to develop a well-liked kind of top of the range musical theater to suit the center floor between business works with a broad viewers and elitist excessive artwork with its small following, and to carry it beneath the tent of works doable by smaller corporations and faculty music departments, the place assets are extra restricted, however the willingness to take probabilities is bigger.  Susannah was his most profitable opera, receiving over 200 productions to this point; amongst American operas, second solely to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  The composer died in 2021 on the age of 95.  I extremely suggest critic Tim Web page’s glorious obituary within the Washington Put up.

Susannah (Ann Toomey, in the correct foreground) has some harmless enjoyable on the church sq. dance, whereas Elder McLean (Tshegofatso Clement Batoyi, farther to the correct) observes. Photograph by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Wolf Entice Opera.

The story of Mr. Floyd’s Susannah is loosely based mostly on the story of Susanna and the Elders within the E-book of Daniel.  Nevertheless, within the bible story, the prophet Daniel involves the rescue of Susanna, which isn’t the ending of composer Floyd’s work.  Susannah Polk is an 18-year-old lady in a rural Appalachian area of Tennessee the place she lives along with her older brother Sam.  Sam cares deeply about his sister however spends his time fishing and searching within the day and consuming an excessive amount of within the night.  Susannah has turn into a sexy younger girl, a free spirit in search of harmless enjoyable, however attracting the leering consideration of the boys and the jealousy of the ladies within the tight knit neighborhood.  Reverend Olin Blitch is about to reach on the town to steer a revival.  The neighborhood’s tolerance of Susannah ends when city elders, in search of a spot for baptisms to be carried out by Blitch, spot Susannah bathing bare in a creek close to her home within the woods.  Their lustful impulses shortly flip to disgrace at her perceived outrageous habits.  They inform the opposite folks in the neighborhood and pressure Little Bat McLean to say that his solely actual good friend, Susannah, seduced him, which causes the neighborhood to refuse Susanna attendance at neighborhood occasions.  The scenario continues to spiral downhill as Reverend Blitch, failing to “save” Susannah who maintains her innocence, forces himself on her sexually.  Sam shoots the Reverend, and the townspeople storm in direction of Susannah’s home demanding she go away the realm.  Susannah, crushed and worn out by the fixed rejection and Blitch’s sexual abuse, makes a stand, refusing to depart, and brandishing a rifle, drives her oppressors away. 



left picture: Reverend Blitch (Christian Pursell) chooses to bop with Susannah (Ann Toomey). proper picture: Mrs. McLean (Winona Martin, seated), Mrs. Gleaton (Sophia Hunt), Mrs. Ott (Cecelia McKinley), and Mrs. Hayes (Hayley Maloney) observe and criticize Susannah’s habits. Images by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Wolf Entice Opera.

As highly effective because the story is and WTO’s telling of it was, it was the music that almost all impressed me.  When my consideration sometimes shifted to the music, my response constantly was, “Wow, this music is admittedly good.”  Conductor Stephanie Rhodes Russell led a 38-piece Wolf Entice Orchestra, positioned behind the stage which had been prolonged in direction of the viewers over the Barn’s orchestra pit.  The sound was glorious; kudos to Ms. Russell and her orchestra.  Floyd’s music is melodious and colourful in orchestration, however to me its most spectacular side was how carefully attuned to the drama it was, resembling a little bit of dissonance mixing into the present melody as a scene turns into confrontational.  The music can also be full of light accents with solo devices.  NY critics didn’t embrace Mr. Floyd’s opera, criticizing it as missing innovation and complexity.  I discovered its magnificence, drama, and the directness with which it speaks to the human coronary heart to be greater than sufficient.  Seeing Susannah and listening to its music made me occupied with attending different operas by Mr. Floyd. 

Little Bat (Joseph Leppek) and Susannah (Ann Toomey) share a second of friendship. Photograph by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Wolf Entice Opera.

A spotlight of any Wolf Entice Opera is the extraordinary expertise and excessive power of Filene Artists and Studio Artists that it attracts to its coaching program every summer time.  Lee Anne Myslewski, Vice President of Opera and Classical Programming, acknowledged in her on-line pre-opera speak that the operas this 12 months that have been chosen had fewer foremost performers to present the Filene Artists meatier roles since their profession improvement had been interrupted by the COVID pandemic.  She additionally stated she now felt snug with this crop of Studio Artists dealing with the roles of the older townspeople, making Susannah a good selection.  WTO all the time selects it operas after finalizing its checklist of profitable opponents to spend a summer time with WTO.

Reverend Blitch (Christian Pursell) calls on Susannah (Ann Toomey) to come back ahead to admit her sins and repent. Photograph by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Wolf Entice Opera.

One should start with the superb efficiency by soprano Ann Toomey as Susannah.  She displayed a beautiful timbre in sections the place a softer folks track voice was referred to as for and nice energy and agility in reaching the excessive, emotionally intense, operatic sound that her arias typically rose to.  Her “Timber on the Mountain” and “Ain’t It a Fairly Night time” arias have been the highlights anticipated.  Her appearing totally supported Susannah’s transformation from harmless younger lady to an embittered, distraught outcast from her neighborhood, whereas but remaining true to herself.  Christian Pursell who portrayed Reverend Blitch is an excellent bass-baritone who sang superbly, however on this position additionally had difficult dramatic calls for.  He met the calls for each because the charismatic preacher and because the contrite sinner who had pressured himself on Susannah.  Tenor Robert Stahley sang the position of Sam, who may need been my favourite character.  He sang the bouncy, enjoyable “Jaybird” and extra soulful arias with equal aplomb; his aria “It’s Concerning the Manner Folks Are Made” was particularly touching.  His portrayal of a rustic boy was convincing, and he got here throughout as maybe essentially the most Christian-like member of the neighborhood earlier than his rage takes over.  He tries to console Susannah and sings about there being “too little loving kindness. It should make the nice Lord unhappy”.  Bass Joseph Leppek additionally gave a convincing efficiency singing and appearing as Little Bat, who cared about Susannah however couldn’t defy his manipulating dad and mom.

Susannah (Ann Toomey) wards off the indignant townspeople, led by Elder McLean (Tshegofatso Clement Baloyi), who demand she go away the realm. Photograph by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Wolf Entice Opera.

The Studio Artists in supporting roles (Tshegofatso Clement Baloyi, Tavon Walker, Hayden Smith, Dylan Gregg, Winona Martin, Sophia Hunt, Hayley Maloney, and Cecelia McKinley) contributed to the effectiveness of the story telling as Elders and their wives.  Appreciable appearing abilities have been required of them, particularly within the dramatic revival scene.  I’ll single out two for particular remark.  Mezzo-soprano Winona Martin who portrayed Ms. Mclean was very convincing because the small city busybody who sought to control everybody and saved the pot stirred in opposition to Susannah.  Her counterpart as Mr. McLean was baritone Tshegofatso Clement Baloyi who appeared to anchor the performances of the townspeople.  Each have been glorious.

Within the remaining scene, Susannah (Ann Toomey), embittered by a life in ruins, rejects Little Bat’s (Joseph Leppek) pleas for forgiveness. Photograph by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Wolf Entice Opera.

Director Dan Wallace Miller instructed the story properly and saved the motion flowing easily for essentially the most half.  In a transfer that shocked me, he highlighted Susannah’s lack of innocence within the remaining scene by having her give Little Bat a blow with the butt of her rifle, refusing his pleas for forgiveness, jolting in addition to efficient.  The dialect chosen was rustic and unobtrusive, although not southern.  The least efficient scene within the manufacturing was the Susannah bathing scene the place Susannah was positioned off stage.  The probabilities for this scene have been constrained by having a single set that coated your complete stage.   The viewers was required to increase its sense of disbelief in a number of scenes, nevertheless it mattered within the bathing scene, and for me, it was distracting and muddled the motives of the Elders.  The set design by Christopher Mumaw was only when displaying the church scenes.  Marnie Cumings lighting design helped the transitions between scenes.  Particular kudos to costume designer Candace Frank and hair & make-up designer Anne Nesmith who made the costumes and the interval and place totally plausible, a spotlight of the opera.  Choreographer Felicity Stiverson made the dancing on the social and the interactions between the Reverend and Susannah go easily.

I want to shut with one thing that was not within the opera.  It was within the pre-opera speak by Ms. Myslewski.  Mr. Floyd’s opera is an indictment of the destruction attributable to the coercive energy of teams. In her feedback, with out excusing the merciless and small-minded habits of the townspeople, she factors out the significance of neighborhood in these circumstances.  These folks have been poor and wanted one another, trusted one another for survival.  A code of conduct was needed to make sure the efficient functioning of the neighborhood.  Human flaws and weaknesses triggered it to go awry.  Susannah tells the story of a tragedy for all of its characters.  Sam’s assertion that the world wants extra loving kindness for everybody feels about proper.

The Fan Expertise: Susannah was scheduled for performances on August 12, 14, and 20.  The opera is in English with supertitles on a display screen above the stage.  The efficiency is 2 hours with an extra 20-minute intermission between acts.  This manufacturing seems to be a promote out; I used to be unable to search out any remaining tickets on-line.  Ms. Myslewski’s glorious pre-opera speak needs to be out there on-line till the August 20 efficiency. 

The Barns is a superb venue for opera, intimate with good acoustics.  Even the seats on the again and within the balcony are comparatively near the performers, however a few of these within the again on the ground lack a view of the supertitles.  The ground seats are usually not tiered however these within the balcony are.  Meals and drinks can be found earlier than the performances and through intermissions.  Throughout DC’s sizzling and humid summers, it has glorious air-conditioning.  Parking is free, plentiful and is easy-in/easy-out.