Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Human Spirit Is Key to Composer's Work INTERVIEW CARLISLE FLOYD

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Human Spirit Is Key to Composer's Work INTERVIEW CARLISLE FLOYD

Article excerpt

"Music to me is access to the very best in human nature," says American composer Carlisle Floyd. "For people who are even remotely sensitive, it has a way of triggering a whole emotional area of ourselves we may not even know exists."

Mr. Floyd was recently in Denver for the opening of his most popular opera, "Susannah," now in an exhilarating production by Central City Opera Company. He talked about his life in music, his aims as a creative artist, and his absorbing interest in the human heart and mind.

Floyd has written six full-length operas (notably "Wuthering Heights," "Of Mice and Men," "Willie Stark," and "The Passion of Jonathan Wade") and three one-acts. He has recently completed a large choral work called "A Time to Dance." The son of a Methodist minister, Floyd grew up in the rural South, leaving long enough to obtain his master's degree from Syracuse University (N.Y.). He returned to the South to teach at Florida State University from 1947 to 1976, and thereafter, at the University of Houston. Origin of 'Susannah' He was only 28 when he wrote both the music and the libretto for "Susannah." And having been told as a creative-writing student in college to write about what he knew, he placed the Apocryphal story of "Susannah and the Elders" in the rural South, recalling the revival meetings and church services he had seen as a child in South Carolina. Though the tragic story certainly takes issue with the evils of the human mind, it does not negate or despise genuine religious feeling, and one of the most moving moments occurs during a church meeting, when the congregation sings a beautiful hymn-like anthem. The story concerns a girl who is falsely accused of immoral behavior when she is seen by elders of the church bathing in a creek. Disgraced in the eyes of her mountain community, she defies her neighbors with a gun, driving them away from her cabin - but not before a terrible tragedy hardens her heart toward them all. The story reflects a reaction to the excesses of the McCarthy era, but it would be a mistake to equate "Susannah" with, say, Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Floyd's story is not a political harangue. "I don't want to be preached to, I don't want to be aware of a thesis in the theater - certainly not in the musical theater," he says. "Ours is the arena of passion and action and some sort of insight into human behavior." He chooses to write about the deep issues of the human spirit. "They are the only things that interest me - because they are the things that are timeless." Though the sociopolitical implications of "Susannah" are clear, Floyd is engaged in revealing the twist of the human mind that sees evil where none exists. He shows that jealousy is inherently blinding: Those who accuse Susannah of wrong-doing jump to the basest conclusions because they envy her. …

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