‘Susannah’ is Rice’s spring opera production

What happens when a community wrongly accuses an innocent young woman of impropriety? That’s the plot of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music’s spring opera, “Susannah,” to be presented by the school’s Opera Department and chamber orchestra.

early autumn landscape. fog from conifer forest surrounds the mountain top at night in full moon lightPerformances are March 4, 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Wortham Opera Theatre, inside Alice Pratt Brown Hall on the Rice campus. Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of the Houston Grand Opera, is guest conductor for the production.

“Susannah,” American composer Carlisle Floyd’s best-known opera, is set in 1940s Appalachia and centers on a girl from impoverished New Hope Valley, Tennessee, who’s wrongly labeled by her community as a sinner. The story is loosely based upon the story of Susanna and the Elders found in the Apocrypha. Floyd, the son of a Methodist minister, has based many of his works on themes from the South.

The main question throughout the opera, according to Michael Heaston, director of opera studies at the Shepherd School,  is this: What happens when a community turns against someone facing an unjust accusation?

“The dilemma is whether or not to believe and rally behind innocence or to clamp down on faith and traditions,” said E. Loren Meeker, guest stage director for the production.

Heaston said it was important for him to do an American opera in his first year at the Shepherd School.

“It is very fulfilling for the Shepherd School Opera to be presenting one of the most important American operas ever written,” Heaston said, “We are in the midst of a great operatic renaissance in this country, where new work is vibrant, vital and highly prized. ‘Susannah’ was one of the seminal works in our genre that laid the groundwork for the amazingly creative time we are able to enjoy today.”

To purchase tickets, which are $12 for the general public and $10 for students and senior citizens, call the Shepherd School Concert Office at 713-348-8000.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.