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University of Iowa News Release


April 16, 2010

UI Opera Theater performs Carlisle Floyd's 'Susannah' April 30-May 2

The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present Carlisle Floyd's "Susanna" at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 30 and May 1, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 2, in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City.

Based on the story of "Susannah and the Elders" in the Catholic and Orthodox Book of Daniel -- a frequent subject of paintings -- "Susannah" is a timeless exploration of intolerance, jealousy and human fallibility. A backwoods Tennessee community in the 1950s turns on the free-spirited outsider Susannah when she is spied bathing in the baptismal river.

This modern American folk opera uses bluegrass fiddle tunes as musical inspiration to tell a tale of lust, bigotry, seduction, betrayal and revenge.

Director Gary Briggle, a faculty member in the UI School of Music, called the work, "A provocative modern parable, drawn from ancient Apocryphal sources and told in the heartfelt language of folk music, in which prejudice, hypocrisy, lust and paranoia masquerade as religious fervor.

"As a rural community persecutes an innocent backwoods girl, a powerfully charismatic evangelist is destroyed in his fall from grace. Reverend Blitch shatters Susannah's faith in an act of sexual violence, but she bitterly triumphs over the cruel abuses by asserting her uniquely powerful individuality and severing all ties with the very community she so desperately hoped would accept her."

The student cast includes Jacqueline Lang as Susannah, James Thompson as Sam and Ian Richardson at Rev. Olin Blitch.

"Susannah" is one of the most-performed American operas, second only to Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." It was awarded the New York Music Critics Circle Award for Best New Opera in 1956 and represented the United States at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels. In 1966 it was the only contemporary opera to be included in the inaugural season of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Company.

Floyd is unusual among opera composers in that he writes both music and libretto, and he typically combines American folk and religious music with searing social commentary. His themes have included the aftermath of the civil war, the Great Depression and, in "Susannah," rural fundamentalism.

Andrew Porter wrote in The New Yorker, "With a commitment that rivals Smetana's in Bohemia or Britten's in Britain, Floyd has striven to create a national repertory ... He has learned the international language of successful opera in order to speak it in his own accents and to enrich it with the musical and vernacular idioms of his own country."

Floyd has been the recipient of a numerous honors and awards, culminating with induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001, the National Medal of Arts in 2004 and the inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors in 2008.

Other artistic contributors to the UI production of "Susannah" include music director Shari Rhoads, lighting designer Ed McCarthy and scenic/costume designer Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer.

Tickets -- $20; UI student $5; senior citizen $15; youth $10 - are available at the Englert box office, 319-688-2653. Box office hours are 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Tickets may be purchased online at

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT:Director Gary Briggle, Winston Barclay, University News Services, 319-384-0073,