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The Sunday Opera: Two by Carlisle Floyd - "Prince of Players" & "Susannah"

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Carlisle Floyd, whom we lost in September of last year, has been called the ‘Father of American Opera,” and on this week’s SUNDAY OPERA (2/13 3:00 p.m.), we’ll be hearing two of his works.   We’ll begin with the last of his 13 operas from 2016 entitled “Prince of Players.”  Based on the same material as the 2004 film “Stage Beauty,” the opera looks at Edward Kynaston (Keith Phares) who was one of the last of the Restoration actors to portray women on stage.   When King Charles II (Chad Shelton) ends the ban on women performing on stage so that actresses like Margaret Hughes (Kate Royal) and Nell Gwynn (Rena Harms) could then perform, Kynaston’s career was, for the most part, ended, and he needed to reinvent himself.   With the help of Margaret, he realizes his talents as a director, and changes the face of British theatre.  Other members of the cast include Alexander Dobson as Thomas Betterton, Frank Kelley as Sir Charles Sedley, and Vale Rideout as Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.   They are joined by the Florentine Opera Chorus and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Boggs.  Our second opera is arguably Floyd’s best known and the one that brought him to international fame.   “Susannah” has its basis in the biblical story of “Susanna and the Elders” from the book of Daniel.   Here, however, the story has been brought into the 20th century and colored by the insanity surrounding the McCarthy hearings which took place two years before the opera’s premier.   The action has been moved to New Hope Valley, Tennessee where Susannah (Cheryl Studer) is seen bathing naked in a creek on her property by four elders of her church for which she is shunned through no fault of her own.   She has already run afoul of the wives of the town because of her beauty and the way it affects their husbands.  The town happily joins in condemning Susannah and her brother Sam (Jerry Hadley), and the resulting frenzy leads to more accusations. 

The new reverend, Olin Blitch (Samuel Ramey) is also taken with Susannah’s beauty, and on the pretext of ministering to Susannah, he accosts and rapes her when he finds that Sam is not at home.   When Blitch realizes that Susannah was still a virgin and that the stories that had been circulated about her were opportunistic lies, his remorse leads him to try to clear Susannah’s name with his congregation, but they’ve made their decision.   Where the original story saw the deaths of the accusers and the vindication of Susanna, here, only Blitch is dead, and Susannah is left isolated from her town and church because of the lies told about her. The additional cast here includes Kenn Chester as Susannah’s true friend, Little Bat, and Michael Druiett, Steven Cole, Stuart Kale, and David Pittsinger as the treacherous Elders.   Anne Howells, Della Jones, Jean Glennon, and Elizabeth Laurence are their wives.   They’re joined by the Chorus and Orchestra of the Lyon Opera with Kent Nagano conducting.  

After the operas, we’ll hear Floyd’s Sonata No.1 for Piano, which is considered to be one of the greatest of the 20th century, played by Heidi Louise Williams.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.