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The Music of Susannah

From "My Susannah" by Julius Rudel Opera News April 1999

Susannah draws on traditional and popular music sources, but it also has some full blown arias and rousing choral moments

  • Opera Prelude - Referred to by Floyd as "Opening Music" - is short and passionate, introducing the audience to the people of New Hope Valley. In three parts: jagged chords suggesting conflict, a lyric broad lament implying tragedy and a coda of dying phrases.

  • Square Dance - Opens Act I - the cheerful square dance is in contrast to the nasty comments made by the Elder's wives in "She's a Shameless Girl." This fast-paced music comes to an abrupt halt with the entrance of Olin Blitch.

  • A hymn-like melody, dignified and pensive, brass chorale establishes Blitch immediately: "I am the Reverend Olin Blitch, and I've come to New Hope Valley to cast out devils and conquer sin and bring sinners to repentance...."

  • "Ain't it a pretty night?" - Susannah's aria is the centerpiece of Act II - The piece is filled with dreams, desires and the acknowledgment that there is a wondrous world beyond the valley.

  • Sung by Sam Polk, Susannah's brother, "Oh, Jaybird Sittin' on a Hickry Limb" is an authentic-sounding folk song that brings the audience back to the valley.

Listen and watch a RealPlayerTM clip of Sam singing "Oh, Jaybird Sittin' on a Hickry Limb" to Susannah.     Get RealPlayer help.
  • The rustle in the orchestra that opens Scene 3 captures the sonic essence of the flowing, shimmering stream. This music leads us to the stream where Susannah bathes. The elders chant in unison "This woman is of the devil. It is a shameful sight to behold" upon intruding on Susannah's privacy.

  • The mood of Scene 4 of Act I is instantly established by the mysterious orchestral introduction - tainted by the dark clouds that pervade the minds of the elders and their wives.

  • Act I finishes with Little Bat admitting to Susannah his false confession to the Elders and Sam's tender, brotherly observation "They'll turn this valley into hell."

  • Act II opens musically with static chords dominating the music, supporting the waiting of Susannah and Sam.

  • "Are you saved from Sin" - The revival meeting is dramatic realism at its best - American verismo. The chorus singing as the congregation's participation drives the event to a religious frenzy.

  • "The trees on the mountain" - One of the most heartbreaking of all opera's arias - captures Susannah's loneliness, fears and tenderness. Sad chords of the solo harp, lonely and cold, introduce this incredibly beautiful song.

  • "I'm a lonely man, Susannah" - Blitch abandons his religious demeanor, reaching out to her in this human aria.

  • "When the congregation gathers" - The music conveys an implicit tension when Blitch tells them he knows that Susannah is innocent

  • "Oh Lord, I Never Meant Him to Die" sung by Susannah - The opera's shocking ending weaves together all the strands, textual and musical, in a catastrophic conclusion that is the exclamation point to an ideal dramatic curve.


  • Markheim (Complete Opera) Treigle, Crofoot; New Orleans Anderson: VAI Audio VAIA 1107

  • Susannah. Live recording of first performance (mono) CD reissued on VAI

  • Susannah. Studio recording, 1993-1994. Susannah, Cheryl Studer; Blitch, Samuel Ramey; Sam, Jerry Hadley, Chorus and Orchestra of the Lyons Opera, Kent Nagno, conductor; Virgin Classics VCD 5 45039. Winner of the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording

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 Last Updated: Monday, 01-Dec-2008 15:28:23 Eastern Standard Time