Susannah takes the midseason stage

Opera with an American sensibility

Courtesy of Toledo City Paper, 2015

- Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015
by Athena Cocoves

Considering the musical tradition, some styles are more similar than others. Sure, reflection might be easy in 2015; vapor-wave (whatever that means) came and went, but how similar could Appalachian folk and opera possibly be? 

Apparently, the genres are not too far apart. In 1955, 24-year-old composer  Carlisle Floyd melded these traditions and premiered his first opera, Susannah. 

Floyd’s approachable production earned him the New York Music Critics Circle Award for Best New Opera in 1956. Two years later, Susannah was chosen to represent American music and culture at the 1958 World’s Fair. 

“In a sense, Susannah is the American Opera,” said Robert Mirakian, assistant director of Toledo Opera and conductor for Susannah. “One of the reasons we are doing this show is to give people something newer.”

With an Americanized sound, a 1955 Tennessee setting and casual use of the English language, Susannah is significantly less intimidating than the standard opera classics. 

Even those who might think “allegro” is a misspelling of “allergy” will enjoy the story that playfully responds to mid-century political paranoia. “It sounds American . . . with open intervals, prominent brass, lush string textures . . . it’s just really good music,” Mirakian said.

Director Sean Cooper is looking forward to the production and is passionate about Susannah’s unique qualities. “It respects the audience enough to allow them to come to their own conclusions. There is purposeful ambiguity,” he said. 

The opera is driven by narrative, not by sound. Floyd does not create a story around pieces of music. “It feels like a play or movie,” Cooper explained. “It is cinematic. The story unfolds at the purpose of the drama.” 

The Toledo Opera boasts a few special draws to this upcoming production. The famous Samuel Ramey will appear in a role he has long mastered, Jennifer Goode Cooper will grace the stage and and occupy a role she is highly anticipating, Sean Cooper—a Toledo Opera mainstay—will take over for his directorial debut, and the majority of the supporting cast will feature Toledo locals. 

Along with big-name stars, The Toledo Opera will engage new technologies at the benefit of the fast-paced production with short acts and frequent scene changes. A projection screen will provide cinematic quality and the orchestra will be onstage. The singer’s performances will be intimate, all within 14 feet of the stage’s edge. 

Jennifer, a Bowling Green resident, will star as Susannah, a role with an aria that she’s been keeping in her repertoire. “I’ve wanted to the play this role since I first learned it in college,” Cooper told me. “I’ve won competitions with this;  I received a grant from the Kurt Weill foundation for this production, and the role is personal to me. I grew up in Tennessee and I relate to Susannah’s thoughts of getting out and her simultaneous wanting to experience the world and warmth for her home. I connect to her hopefulness.” 

To kick off the weekend early, “Take a Shot at Opera!” and join the Toledo Opera at 5:30pm on Wednesday, January 28 at Registry Bistro (144 N. Superior) for specialty shots of moonshine and live music. 

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