|Born||June 11, 1926|
Latta, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||September 30, 2021 95) (aged|
Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.
|Known for|| Operas |
|List of compositions|
|Awards|| National Medal of Arts |
Carlisle Sessions Floyd (June 11, 1926 –September 30, 2021) was an American composer primarily known for his operas. These stage works, for which he wrote the librettos, typically engage with themes from the American South, particularly the Post-civil war South, the Great Depression and rural life. His best known opera, Susannah , is based on a story from the Biblical Apocrypha, transferred to contemporary rural Tennessee, and written for a Southern dialect. It was premiered at Florida State University in 1955, with Phyllis Curtin in the title role. When it was staged at the New York City Opera the following year, the reception was initially mixed; some considered it a masterpiece, while others degraded it as a 'folk opera'. Subsequent performances led to an increase in Susannah's reputation and the opera quickly became among the most performed of American operas.
In 1976, he became M. D. Anderson professor at the University of Houston. He co-founded the Houston Opera Studio for the training of young singers. Floyd is regarded as the "Father of American opera".
Carlisle Sessions Floyd was born in Latta, South Carolina, on June 11, 1926 to Carlisle and Ida (née Fenegan) Floyd.His father was his namesake and a Methodist minister at the local church; on both sides his family was descended from among the first European immigrants to the Carolinas. He had a sister, Ermine, along with a sizable extended family. Being raised in the Southern United States, Floyd would have been well aquatinted with typical Southern ideals of the time, such as Southern hospitality, extra caution to avoid offending others, Protestantism and a general disliking towards the Northerners. Also prominent in his Southern upbringing were revival meetings, the "bigotry" of which later influenced his work. Though the family was not familiar with contemporary classical music, Floyd's mother enjoyed music and poetry, often hosting family hymn singing events. She also gave Floyd his first piano lessons. Floyd attended North High School in North Carolina.
Though American involvement in World War II had begun in 1941, Floyd's asthma prevented his conscription.He attended Converse College of Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1944, studying piano with composer Ernst Bacon. In 1945 Bacon left Converse to become director of the music school at Syracuse University, New York, a considerably more multicultural institution. Floyd followed Bacon to Syracuse and received a Bachelor of Music in 1946. The following year, Floyd became part of the piano faculty at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He stayed there for thirty years, eventually becoming Professor of Composition. He received a master's degree at Syracuse in 1949.
While at FSU, Floyd gradually became interested in composition. His first opera was Slow Dusk to his own libretto, and was produced at Syracuse in 1949. His next opera, The Fugitives, was seen at Tallahassee in 1951 but was withdrawn.
Floyd's third opera was his greatest success: Susannah . It was premiered at Florida State at the Ruby Diamond Auditoriumin February 1955, with Phyllis Curtin in the title role and Mack Harrell as the Reverend Olin Blitch. The following year, the opera was given at the New York City Opera, winning him international recognition. Erich Leinsdorf conducted, with Curtin and Norman Treigle as Blitch. The opera received the New York Music Critics' Circle Award. It was selected to be America's official operatic entry at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, directed by Frank Corsaro, with Curtin, Treigle and Richard Cassilly.
In 1976, he became M. D. Anderson professor at the University of Houston. There, he co-founded the Houston Opera Studio, together with David Gockley, as an institution of the University of Houston and Houston Grand Opera,with students including Michael Ching and Craig Bohmler.
Later in 1958, Floyd's Wuthering Heights (after Emily Brontë) premiered at the Santa Fe Opera, with Curtin as the heroine.In 1960, at Syracuse, his solo cantata on biblical texts, Pilgrimage, was first heard with Treigle as soloist. The Passion of Jonathan Wade , commissioned by the Ford Foundation, was Floyd's most epic opera, set in South Carolina during the Reconstruction era. It was premiered at the New York City Opera on October 11, 1962. Theodor Uppman, Curtin, Treigle and Harry Theyard performed in a large cast, conducted by Julius Rudel and directed by Allen Fletcher. Floyd revised it in 1989 for performances at four major opera houses in the U.S., beginning at Houston Grand Opera.
Floyd's next opera was The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, which was a comedy around Scottish settlers of the Carolinas. Patricia Neway and Treigle created the title roles with Rudel conducting.The opera Markheim (after Robert Louis Stevenson) was first shown at the New Orleans Opera Association in 1966, with Treigle (to whom it was dedicated) and Audrey Schuh heading the cast. Floyd himself served as stage director.
The opera Of Mice and Men (after John Steinbeck) was commissioned by the Ford Foundation. After a long gestation period, it was premiered at the Seattle Opera in 1970, directed by Corsaro.A monodrama on the royal subject of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Flower and Hawk, premiered in Jacksonville, Florida, with Curtin directed by Corsaro. The production was also presented at Carnegie Hall.
Bilby's Doll (after Esther Forbes) was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera where it was premiered in 1976 with Christopher Keene conducting and David Pountney directing.Floyd composed Willie Stark (after Robert Penn Warren) also for Houston, where it was first heard in 1981 in a staging by Harold Prince. After a hiatus of almost twenty years, another Floyd opera premiered in Houston in 2000, Cold Sassy Tree (after Olive Ann Burns). Patrick Summers conducted, Bruce Beresford directed, and Patricia Racette led the cast. It was subsequently produced by several American opera houses.
After retirement from the university in Houston in 1996, Floyd lived in Tallahassee again.He had composed a Piano Sonata in the 1950s (1957, two years after Susannah) for Rudolf Firkušný, who played it at a Carnegie Hall recital, but it languished until Daniell Revenaugh recorded it in 2009 at the age of 74. Revenaugh worked with the composer in learning the piece (Floyd himself had never learned it), and their rehearsal sessions and the live recording itself were filmed for posterity. The recording was made on the Alma-Tadema Steinway that graced the White House during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
The Houston Grand Opera produced a new opera by Floyd on March 5, 2016, Prince of Players, a chamber opera about the 17th-century actor, Edward Kynaston, conducted by Summers. A live recording of the premiere was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Floyd died on September 30, 2021 in Tallahassee, at the age of 95.He had no children, but was survived by four nieces, the daughters of Ermine. His publisher Boosey and Hawkes, announced his death and did not relay the cause.
Floyd is primarily known for his operas, which make up the bulk of his compositional output.Like Wagner and Menotti, Floyd wrote the librettos to his operas. His best-known opera, Susannah, is regarded as his magnum opus . The National Public Radio's Tom Huizenga posits the work as suitable contender to be considered the archetypal "Great American Opera". Patricia Racette declared that "If it is not the greatest American opera, it's certainly among the great American operas". According to Opera News , Susannah is the most frequently performed American opera after Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors . The Daily Telegraph , however, claimed it is the most "widely performed" American opera, purportedly outnumbering some works by Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. In addition to Gershwin and Menotti, Floyd stands with Adams, Barber, Bernstein, Glass and Rorem in the pantheon of preeminent 20th-century American opera composers.
Floyd's compositions were published by Boosey and Hawkes.
Works for stage
|Slow Dusk||1949||Musical play|
|Unfinished stage work||–|
|Susanna and the Elders|
3 acts (& prologue)
|Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë|
|The Passion of Jonathan Wade||1962|
|The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair||1963|| Comic opera |
|"Markheim" by Robert Louis Stevenson|
|Of Mice and Men||1970||Musical drama|
|Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck|
|Flower and Hawk||1972||Monodrama|
|A Mirror for Witches by Esther Forbes|
|All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren|
|Cold Sassy Tree||2000|| Comic opera |
|Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns|
|Prince of Players||2016||Opera|
|Fictional portrayal of Edward Kynaston's life|
Baritone and orchestra
|Various biblical texts|
|Piano Sonata||1957||Solo piano||–|
|The Mystery||1960||Song cycle|
Soprano and orchestra
|Text by Gabriela Mistral|
|Introduction, Aria, and Dance||1967||Orchestral||–|
|Citizen of Paradise||1983||Song cycle|
Mezzo-soprano and piano
|Text by Emily Dickinson|
|A Time to Dance||1994||Orchestral|
Baritone, chorus and orchestra
|Soul of Heaven||1995||Song cycle|
Voice and piano
|Text by various authors|
Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is an American opera company located in Houston, Texas. Founded in 1955 by German-born impresario Walter Herbert and three local Houstonians, the company is resident at the Wortham Theater Center. In its history, the company has received a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards, and three Emmy Awards, the only opera company in the world to win these three honours. Houston Grand Opera is supported by an active auxiliary organization, the Houston Grand Opera Guild, established in October 1955.
Phyllis Curtin was an American soprano and academic teacher who had an active career in operas and concerts from the early 1950s through the 1980s. She is known for her creation of roles in operas by Carlisle Floyd, such as the title role in Susannah and Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights. She was a dedicated song recitalist, who retired from singing in 1984. She was named Boston University's Dean Emerita, College of Fine Arts in 1991.
Susannah is an opera in two acts by the American composer Carlisle Floyd, who wrote the libretto and music while a member of the piano faculty at Florida State University. Floyd adapted the story from the Apocryphal tale of Susannah and the Elders, though the latter story has a more positive ending. The story focuses on 18-year-old Susannah Polk, an innocent girl who is targeted as a sinner in the small mountain town of New Hope Valley, in the Southern American state of Tennessee.
"Markheim" is a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, originally prepared for the Pall Mall Gazette in 1884, but published in 1885 in The Broken Shaft: Tales of Mid-Ocean as part of Unwin's Christmas Annual. The story was later published in Stevenson's collection The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables (1887).
Norman Treigle (né Adanelle Wilfred Treigle was an American operatic bass-baritone, who was acclaimed for his great abilities as a singing-actor, and specialized in roles that evoked villainy and terror.
Willie Stark is an opera in three acts and nine scenes by Carlisle Floyd to his own libretto, after the 1946 novel All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, which in turn was inspired by the life of the Louisiana governor Huey Long. The opera was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, which premiered it on April 24, 1981, in a production directed by Harold Prince and conducted by John DeMain. The original production was dedicated to the American radio journalist Lowell Thomas. Floyd made cuts to the score for a television presentation of the opera, and the edited version was shown on US public television in September 1981.
Opera has long been part of the musical culture of New Orleans, Louisiana. Operas have regularly been performed in the city since the 1790s, and since the early 19th century, New Orleans has had a resident company regularly performing opera in addition to theaters hosting traveling performers and companies.
Audrey Schuh is an American operatic soprano. She studied at Loyola University of the South.
Harry Theyard is an American operatic tenor.
Frank Corsaro was one of America's foremost stage directors of opera and theatre. His Broadway productions include The Night of the Iguana (1961).
Alan Crofoot was a Canadian operatic Heldentenor, character tenor specialist, and actor. He was also the host of Mr. Piper, a 1960s children's television series that aired on the CBC in Canada.
Joy Clements was an American lyric coloratura soprano who had a substantial opera and concert career from 1956 through the late 1970s. She notably sang regularly with both the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera during the 1960s through the early 1970s. She also traveled regularly for performances with opera companies and orchestras throughout the United States but only appeared in a relatively few number of performances internationally.
William Diard was an American operatic tenor, teacher, musician, and actor.
Loren Driscoll was an American tenor who had an active international career from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. Driscoll was particularly noted for his performances in contemporary operas and sang in many world premieres.
Bilby's Doll is an opera in three acts composed by Carlisle Floyd. The libretto is based on the 1928 American novel A Mirror for Witches by Esther Forbes.
Video Artists International (VAI), is an independent American DVD-label specializing in classical music performances founded in 1983, and based in Pleasantville, NY. The company started as one of the first labels to release complete operas and ballets on home video, originally in VHS videocassette format. In the early 1990s the label added historical CDs to its video catalogue. VAI's video catalog includes an extensive series of performances from The Bell Telephone Hour. Among the first CDs were performances of arias by Phyllis Curtin, and the 1962 recording of the New Orleans Opera's production of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah.
Knud D. Andersson was a German-born American conductor. He enjoyed a long association with the New Orleans Opera where he served as first assistant conductor and choral director from 1953 to 1965 and then music director and resident conductor from 1965 until his retirement in 1983. The city of New Orleans honored him with certificates of merit in 1957 and 1967.
Samuel Krachmalnick was an American conductor and music educator. He first came to prominence as a conductor on Broadway during the 1950s, notably earning a Tony Award nomination for his work as the music director of the original production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. He went on to work as a busy conductor of operas and symphony orchestras internationally during the 1960s and 1970s. He was particularly active in New York City, where he held conducting posts with the American Ballet Theatre, the Harkness Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Opera. His later career was primarily devoted to teaching on the music faculties of the University of Washington and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Markheim is an opera in one act by composer Carlisle Floyd. The work uses an English language libretto by the composer, after the story of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson. The opera was premiered by the New Orleans Opera on March 31, 1966, under the baton of Knud Andersson, and directed by the composer. The original cast was led by Norman Treigle in the title role, with Alan Crofoot as Josiah Creach, Audrey Schuh as Tess, and William Diard as the Stranger. A recording of the original cast was released on the Video Artists International record label, in 1995.
The Passion of Jonathan Wade is a musical drama, or opera, in three acts by the American composer Carlisle Floyd, who wrote both libretto and music. Commissioned by the Ford Foundation, it was Floyd's most epic opera, set in South Carolina during the Reconstruction era. It was premiered at the New York City Opera on October 11, 1962, directed by Allen Fletcher and conducted by Julius Rudel. Floyd revised it in 1989 for performances at four major opera houses in the U.S., beginning at the Houston Grand Opera.
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