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About the Composer: Carlisle Floyd

Carlisle Floyd, composer

Known as one of the foremost composers and librettists of American opera, Carlisle Floyd was born in Latta, South Carolina on June 11, 1926. In his works, he has created a distinctively American idiom for opera, drawing on national folk and religious music traditions.

Carlisle Floyd Floyd earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music 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. He is a co-founder of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, a training and performance program for young singers and coach/accompanists, jointly created by the University of Houston and the Houston Grand Opera.

In addition to his talent as a composer, Floyd serves as his own librettist. His librettos combine penetrating social commentary with astute psychological insight. His themes, such as the aftermath of the Civil War, the Great Depression, and rural fundamentalism, are used as backgrounds for the personal dramas of characters whose stories unfailingly engage the interest and sympathy of the audience.

With Susannah, Floyd first achieved national prominence as an opera composer/librettist. Premiered in 1955 at Florida State, the work has become a standard of the opera repertoire and has been widely staged in the United States and Europe.

Floyd’s other operas include Of Mice and Men (1970), Bilby’s Doll (1976), and Willie Stark (1981). Recently, the composer has gained increasing attention for his non-operatic works. The 1993 New York premiere of Floyd’s orchestral song cycle, Citizens of Paradise, is based on the poems and letters of Emily Dickinson.

His musical style has been referred to as “eclectic and conservative.” Floyd’s operas contain powerful dramatic segments, and they continue to flourish. Unlike so many opera composers of other generations, Carlisle Floyd has been able to achieve success and acclaim for his works while still alive.

Floyd at Susannah opening in LouisvilleThe story of Susannah appealed to Floyd, who received a strict Methodist upbringing. His father, a Methodist minister, had been posted to a series of small rural Southern towns, and Carlisle was able to draw on these experiences and memories for his opera. The dramatic possibilities inherent in a revival meeting inspired what Floyd called “the catalytic event” for Susannah, the scene around which all the rest of the work flows.

Julius Rudel, “My Susannah,” Opera News, April 1999

About Carlisle Floyd at U.S. Opera

Carlisle Floyd profile from Boosey & Hawkes

In English, ‘Susannah’ takes the mystique out of opera—article from the Augusta Chronicle, including an interview with Carlisle Floyd, from April 25, 1998

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