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Based on the Biblical story of Susannah and the Elders and written at the height of the McCarthy persecutions in the United States, Susannah is an award-winning opera that tells the story of an innocent woman victimized by her single-minded, evangelical community. American composer Carlisle Floyd’s sweeping Appalachian folk-infused score combined with Pucciniesque lyricism define Susannah as the quintessential American verismo opera. Sung in English with English supertitles.
Christopher Larkin, Conductor
Brendan Shapiro, Assistant Conductor
Nathan Troup, Stage Director
Danny Pelzig, Choreographer
Just this past September, Boston Conservatory announced a new educational and artist development partnership with our neighbor, Boston Lyric Opera (BLO). The partnership unlocks incredible opportunities for Boston Conservatory students and members of BLO’s Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artists, and includes the Opera Innovators Series—a curated collection of talks and master classes that engage some of the most innovative and sought-after figures in the opera world. Additionally, Voice Department classes in art song, vocal pedagogy, and the choral arts, will welcome an exceptional lineup of visiting clinicians, each of whom brings their own powerful and distinct voice to bear on our season’s productions and curricula. This academic year also welcomes several new faculty members, and my arrival as chair of the Department and artistic director of the voice and opera performance season.
I am so grateful to our generous donors whose support provides access to the tools and resources our students and faculty need to succeed here and beyond. Providing a transformative high level of training is Boston Conservatory’s reason for being. Inherent in this charge is our faculty and administration’s commitment to foster a genuine sense of goodness, breathing familial inspiration through our Conservatory’s hallways and learning spaces. There is an ethic of care here that is distinct, and that champions people’s goals and aspirations in ways where they feel creative, safe, powerful, and courageous in and through the learning. We’re helping students build a life for themselves through music that has purpose and that could actually change the world. With a faculty of international renown, a stealthy annual lineup of important visiting artists, and a strong commitment to a meaningful list of civic and global initiatives, Boston Conservatory’s Voice Department is an exciting place to be!
I hope you enjoy your experience with us this evening, and welcome you to join us again, and often.
—Isaí Jess Muñoz, Chair of Voice, Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Carlisle Floyd’s award-winning masterpiece premiered on February 5, 1955 at Florida State University and starred the legendary American soprano Phyllis Curtin, forever synonymous with the role. The piece had its Metropolitan debut in 1999 and has since been programmed around the world. This production marks its premiere at Boston Conservatory at Berklee.
My connection to Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah is a personal one. The first time I sang for Phyllis Curtin was in the fall of 2002 at Boston University (BU), where the great American soprano continued to engage with students and faculty of the opera program she established in 1987, during her time as dean of the College of Fine Arts. My connection, however, began even earlier with my first college voice teacher, who was one of Curtin’s first students during her tenure at BU.
In spring of 2010, I assisted director Sharon Daniels (who herself portrayed the role of Susannah with acclaim) on a production for which Floyd and Curtin served as artists-in-residence. I was supremely aware of what was transpiring before me, relishing my moment in the midst of the OG’s of great American opera, and of great teaching. The emotional thrust of the piece has haunted me ever since.
The piece was considered ahead-of-its-time for its bold Feminist perspective, and brazen for its scrutinizing commentary on the destructiveness of McCarthyism, rampant in America at the time of the opera’s inception and premiere, well over half a century ago. However, the narrative dates as far back as its origin story, the Apocryphal story of “Susannah and the Elders.” Floyd also offers a direct correlation to another reign of terror in American history, that of the Salem Witch Trials, saying “You point a finger, and there at the end of the finger is the witch. And it was up to the witch being accused to prove her innocence.” Above all else, the composer makes clear that the action takes place in “the recent past.” Its relevance today is achingly bittersweet.
Notably, Curtin remained uninterested in coaching sopranos on the role, having felt strongly that the character was more easily found on one’s own, rather than having someone tell you how to do it. My last interaction with Curtin was in spring of 2013, when I was able to talk with her about Flower and Hawk (another role written for her by Floyd) as I was preparing for a production of it at Boston Conservatory. Sharp, keen, kind, and bright-eyed as ever, she was very interested to know about the singer singing it. She loved singers and loved good singing.
—Nathan Troup, Stage Director of Susannah
Written during the McCarthy era, Susannah is based loosely on the Apocryphal tale of Susannah and the Elders. In New Hope Valley, Tennessee, Susannah—a pretty and well-mannered young woman of humble origins—is faced with hostility from her church community.
The opera opens at a square dance given by Susannah’s church; a group of wives, jealous of Susannah’s beauty and the attention it brings from their husbands, are gossiping about her. Mrs. McLean, one of the wives, states that you can’t expect more from someone who was raised by her drunken brother. Finally, the Reverend Olin Blitch, newly arrived to lead the congregation, enters and asks Susannah to dance despite the gossip. Later that evening, Susannah tells her admirer Little Bat —the son of Mrs. McLean and her husband, an elder of the church—about the dance; Little Bat leaves abruptly once Susannah’s brother Sam returns from hunting.
The next morning Susannah is innocently bathing naked in the creek near her home; she is discovered by the elders, who are searching for a baptismal stream. They conceal their lust with outrage and tell the community of her wickedness. Susannah arrives at a church dinner that evening and is sent away, much to her confusion. Later, as she is pondering why she has been shunned, Little Bat tells her that the elders have denounced her for bathing in the nude, and admits that he was coerced into saying she seduced him.
Sam informs Susannah that she must make a public confession in order to be absolved. Though she claims she has nothing to confess, she goes to the service where Olin Blitch is preaching. When she is singled out to come forward, she runs away. Once the service has ended, Reverend Blitch goes to Susannah’s house and offers to pray for her soul; upon discovering that her brother is away, Blitch rapes her.
The next day Blitch, having discovered that Susannah was a virgin, comes to her and begs for forgiveness. He throws himself at Susannah’s mercy, but she refuses to forgive him. When Susannah tells Sam the story he threatens to kill Blitch; he leaves for the baptismal service, carrying his shotgun. Convinced that Susannah led her brother to murder, the community heads to her house to drive her out of the valley. However, Little Bat has warned her in advance, and when the vigilantes arrive she is waiting with a shotgun. They retreat, but she has effectively severed her ties with the community and her world.
SUSANNAH POLK – Nina Anderson, Jamila Drecker-Waxman* (Cover: Susannah Hardwick)
SAM POLK – Teddy Edgar, Charles Aurand* (Cover: Nicholas Alessi)
OLIN BLITCH – Christopher Humbert, Brett Bode*^
LITTLE BAT MCLEAN – Andrew Steele, Sam Crosby-Schmidt* (Cover: Corey Mann)
ELDER HAYES – Joshua Vavases, Tyler Cesario*
ELDER GLEATON – Nicholas Alessi, Tom Valenti*
ELDER MCLEAN – Jackson Holtcamp
ELDER OTT – Vaughn Nesmith
MRS. HAYES – Molly Blumenfeld, Jordan Younger* (Cover: Paulina Rodriguez)
MRS. GLEATON – Callie Meikranz, Emily O’Connor* (Cover: Viola Kovacs)
MRS. MCLEAN – Julia Janowski, Sophie Urqhart* (Cover: Mandy Matthews)
MRS. OTT – Darya Narymanava, Grace Heldridge*
MAN IN THE CROWD – Corey Mann
CHORUS – Ally Brigley, Wanyi Cui, Paulina De la Fuente, Chirbee Dy, Viola Kovacs, Lucy Martindale, Mandy Matthews, Anthony Paredes, Alex Robinson, Paulina Rodriguez, Laura Santamaria-Mendez, Emma Shelton, Treshor Webster, Cait Winston, Charles Wolfer
ONSTAGE VIOLINIST – Armando Ortiz
Anna Fisher-Robets, M.M. '23, Principal
Shion Suzuki, G.P.D. '24
Taylor Childress, B.M. '24, Principal
Meng-Chien Chen, G.P.D. '24, Principal
Yuzhe Wu, M.M. '23, Bass Clarinet
Carson Saponaro, B.M. '26, Principal
Amber Dai, Principal
Connor Strauss, B.M. '25
Matthew Dao, M.M. '24, Principal
Jack Armstrong, M.M. '24, Principal
Zhenzhen Qian, M.M. '23
Harold Rivas, B.M. '24
Alexa Clawson, B.M. '25
Maria Ren, guest artist
Mira Steenbrugge, B.M. '23, Concertmaster
Kristen Barrett, M.M. '24
Katy Rose Bennett, B.M. '24
Rowan Gemma, B.M. '24
Armando Ortiz, G.P.D. '23
Celeste DiMeo, G.P.D. '24, Principal
Gaia Sbeghen, G.P.D. '23
Christine Chen, G.P.D. '23
Laruen Oeser, B.M. '25
Brianna Ingber, B.M. '24
Zeynep Yigitoglu, B.M. '25, Principal
Colton Slaven, B.M. '23
Andrew Gretzinger, M.M. '24
Renee Chan, M.M. '23
Grace Fairweather, M.M. '23, Principal
Jerrel Martin, M.M. '23
Luis Tovar, B.M. '24
David Amouretti, B.M. '24, Principal
Jacob Slater, M.M. '24
Artistic Director – Isai Jess Munoz
Conductor – Christopher Larkin
Assistant Conductor – Brendon Shapiro
Stage Director – Nathan Troup
Scenic Designer – Cristina Todesco
Assistant Scenic Designer – Marina Sartori
Costume Designer – Lauren Reuter
Lighting Designer – Chris Brusberg
Assistant Lighting Designer – Margaret Garrity
Wig, Hair, and Make-Up Designer – Rachel Padula-Shufelt
Choreographer Advisor – Danny Pelzig
Choreographers – Lila Kushner, Jennifer Listerman, Adrian Ruiz, Alana Stubbs, Alexis Tsiramanes
Surtitle Designer – Allison Voth
Coaching and Musical Preparation – Jean Anderson, James Myers, Maja Tremiszewska
Music Staff and Rehearsal Piano – Maja Tremiszewska, Liya Nigmati
Student Conductor – Julian Gau
Interim Director of Performance Services and Producer – Hanna Oravec
Stage Manager – Miguel Flores
Assistant Stage Manager – Emily Hanson
Intimacy/Fight Consultant – Angie Jepson
Assistant Intimacy/Fight Consultant – Ori Harris
Technical Director – Greg Rishoi
Temporary Technical Director – Taylor Kaufman
Technical Directing Consultant – Audrey Kimball
Costume Shop Manager – Alison Pugh
Assistant Costume Shop Manager – Leah Foley
Draper/Stitcher – Caroline Seeley, Sam Martin
Stitcher – Carly Wilcox
Wardrobe Manager – Blue Barber
Wardrobe Assistant – Kiara Escalera
Audio Supervisor – Steve Younkins
Lighting Supervisor – Matthew Martino
Production Electrician – Gabe Goldman
Props Manager – Larry Dembski
Stage Supervisor – Avery Hunt
STUDENT PRODUCTION STAFF:
Assistant Directors – Natalie Barnaby, Alexander Robinson
Assistant Stage Managers – Lori Newsom, Kira Weaver
Production Assistants – Evelyn Dumeer, Meghan Hoey, Julia Kelly, Olivia Monarch, Brogan Nelson, Lori Newsom, Kalika Reece, Aidan Rufer, Cooper Sheehy, Trisha Soo, Preston Milne
Run Crew – Machelle Ahmed, Abi Anderson, Shiori Fukunaga, Carson Hollingsworth, Danielle Jung, Sam Kuo, Jo Liu
Costume Assistants – Maya Boyce, Penn Burall, Jacob Fincannon, Carson Hollingsworth, Oliva Martinez, Emily O’Connor
Performance Services Department Assistant – Anthony Paredes
CONCERT SERVICES STAFF:
Senior Manager of Concert Services – Luis Herrera
Concert Production Coordinator – Matthew Carey
Concert Production Manager – Kendall Floyd
Senior Manager of Performance Technology – Wes Fowler
Performance Technology Technicians – Sara Pagiaro, Goran Daskalov
Boston Conservatory thanks audience members for viewing this program information online. This paperless program saved 4,200 sheets of paper, 449 gallons of water, and 377 pounds of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.