Carlisle Floyd (1926-2021)

Carlisle Floyd, one of the most prolific and accessible opera composers in the US, has died at 95.

Floyd, the South Carolina-born son of a Methodist preacher, was best-known for “Susannah,” in which the Apocryphal biblical story of Susanna and the Elders plays out in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.

Along with The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess,” “Susannah” became the one of the most widely staged American operas, especially popular with regional, collegiate and community ensembles. Premiered at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1955, it was staged by the New York City Opera a year later. “Susannah” waited until 1999 to be produced by the Metropolitan Opera. Virginia Opera mounted a production in 2006.

Many of Floyd’s other operas, including “Of Mice and Men,” “Willie Stark” and “Cold Sassy Tree,” are based on well-known literary works, set in Southern and rural locales, with working-class characters singing in regional accents.

Written melodically and with vernacular American texts, Floyd’s works often were belittled by critics for a lack of sophistication. The composer said he sought “subjects from the American experience, drawing from American literature,” hoping to dismantle “the barriers between opera and Broadway.”

Floyd lived in the South, principally in Tallahassee, where he taught at Florida State, for most of his life.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Robert D. McFadden:

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