A dark twist on the apocryphal story of Susannah and the Elders, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah is one of the most-performed American operas of all time. Susannah Polk, a wide-eyed and lovely young woman, lives a simple and happy life with her older brother Sam, who raised her. She finds herself viciously ostracized by her small Tennessee mountain village after a group of church elders discover her bathing nude in a secluded stream near her home. Though her intentions were entirely innocent, she is painted as a sinning seductress by the elders, in part to conceal their own lustful feelings, and the entire town turns against her. A visiting preacher, Reverend Olin Blitch, tries to force her into repentance to “save her soul,” but turns out to be far more of a devil than is shown in his evangelistic exterior: He rapes Susannah and discovers all too intimately her innocence. He begs her, and the Lord, for forgiveness, but is shot dead by Sam as revenge for violating his sister. The town descends on Susannah’s house to drive her out of town, but she stands her ground, laughing maniacally as she chases them off with a shotgun, leaving her starkly alone as the curtain falls.
Susannah guide sections