Opera Profile: Carlisle Floyd, One of the United States’ Great Opera Composers

By David Salazar

Many American composers have tried to create “The Next Great American Opera,” but few have succeeded in doing just that.

Carlisle Floyd, born on June 11, 1926, did just that. The composer has quite a number of operas to his name, but none stands the test of time quite like “Susannah.”

Floyd grew up in South Carolina, eventually moving to New York to continue his piano studies under Ernst Bacon. He would become part of the piano faculty at Florida State University, where he would remain for 30 years.

It was at FSU where he discovered his talent for composition, creating his first opera “Slow Tusk” in 1949. He has continued composing since and has a received a plethora of major awards, including the 1956 Guggenheim Fellowship, his first prize ever. Sinc then he has received two honorary doctorates, was given the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Man of Music Award, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was also given the National Medal of Arts from the White House.

Signature Work

As noted “Susannah” has stood the test of time since its premiere in 1955. The opera is the second-most performed American opera of all time, with only “Porgy and Bess” receiving more performances since their respective world premieres. The work features a plethora of American folk melodies and hymns and the work has been highly lauded with a number of major awards throughout its life. It was championed by some of opera’s greatest singers including Renée Fleming, Cheryl Studer, Diana Soviero, Sam Ramey, and Jerry Hadley, among others.

Watch and Listen

With so much talk of “Susannah,” did you expect anything else? Here is a 2012 production from Undercroft Opera with Lara Lynn McGill.


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