Carlisle Floyd (born June 11, 1926, in Latta, South Carolina) is an American opera composer. The son of a Methodist minister, he based many of his works on themes from the South. His best known opera, Susannah (1955), is based on a story from the Apocrypha, transferred to contemporary, rural Tennessee, and is set in a Southern dialect.
In 1943, Floyd entered Converse College, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and studied piano under Ernst Bacon. When Bacon accepted a position at Syracuse University, in New York, Floyd followed him there, where he received a Bachelor of Music in 1946. The following year, Floyd became part of the piano faculty at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. He was to remain there for thirty years, eventually becoming Professor of Composition. He received a master's degree at Syracuse, in 1949.
While at FSU, Floyd gradually became interested in composition. His first opera was Slow Dusk, to his own libretto (as was to remain his custom), and was produced at Syracuse in 1949. His next opera, The Fugitives, was seen at Tallahassee in 1951, but was then withdrawn.
His third opera was to be Floyd's greatest success: Susannah. It was first heard at Florida State, in February 1955, with Phyllis Curtin in the title role, and Mack Harrell as the Reverend Olin Blitch. The following year, the opera was given at the New York City Opera, with Curtin and Norman Treigle (in his first great success) as Blitch, with Erich Leinsdorf conducting. After receiving much acclaim, a City Opera production (directed by Frank Corsaro) was taken to the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, with Curtin, Treigle and Richard Cassilly.
Later in 1958, Floyd's Wuthering Heights (after Emily Brontë) was premiered at the Santa Fe Opera, with Curtin as the heroine. In 1960, at Syracuse, his "solo cantata on biblical texts," Pilgrimage, was first heard with Treigle as soloist. The Passion of Jonathan Wade was first seen at the City Opera, in 1962. Set in South Carolina during Reconstruction, the piece had Theodor Uppman, Curtin, Treigle and Harry Theyard in the large cast; Julius Rudel conducted.
Floyd's next opera was The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, which was a comedy regarding the Scottish settlers of the Carolinas. Patricia Neway and Treigle created the title roles, with Rudel conducting. The composer's Markheim (after Robert Louis Stevenson) was first shown at the New Orleans Opera Association in 1966, with Treigle (to whom it was dedicated) and Audrey Schuh heading the cast. Floyd himself served as stage director.
Of Mice and Men (after John Steinbeck), following a long gestation, was heard at the Seattle Opera in 1970, in a staging by Corsaro. A monodrama on the royal subject of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Flower and Hawk, was premiered in Jacksonville, Florida, with Curtin directed by Corsaro. (The production was then seen at Carnegie Hall.)
Bilby's Doll (after Esther Forbes) was first mounted at the Houston Grand Opera in 1976, with Christopher Keene conducting and David Pountney producing. In 1976, Floyd co-founded, with David Gockley, the Houston Opera Studio, a training program administered by the Houston Grand Opera for outstanding young professional singers and repertory coaches. Between 1976 and 1996, he held the M.D. Anderson Professorship at the University of Houston School of Music.
In Houston, Willie Stark (after Robert Penn Warren) was also first heard, in 1981, in staging by Harold Prince. After an hiatus of almost twenty years, Floyd's latest opera was premiered in Houston: Cold Sassy Tree (after Olive Ann Burns), in 2000. Patrick Summers conducted, Bruce Beresford directed, and Patricia Racette led the cast.
Carlisle Floyd composed a Piano Sonata in the 1950s for Rudolf Firkušný, who played it at a Carnegie Hall recital, but it then languished until Daniell Revenaugh recorded it in 2009, at the age of 74. Revenaugh worked with the composer in learning the piece (Floyd himself has never learned it), and their rehearsal sessions and the live recording itself were filmed for posterity. The recording was made on the Alma-Tadema Steinway that graced the White House during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
The Houston Grand Opera has announced that a new opera by Floyd will be premiered in the coming seasons, Kynaston, after the 17th-century actor, Edward Kynaston.
- Slow Dusk (1949)
- Susannah (1955)
- Wuthering Heights (1958)
- The Passion of Jonathan Wade (1962)
- The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair (1963)
- Markheim (1966)
- Of Mice and Men (1970)
- Flower and Hawk (1972)
- Bilby's Doll (1976)
- Willie Stark (1981)
- Cold Sassy Tree (2000)
Awards and nominations
- 1956 Guggenheim Fellowship
- 1957 Citation of Merit from the National Association of American Conductors and Composers
- 1959 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award from the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce
- 1964 Distinguished Professor of Florida State University Award
- 1972 Resolution of Appreciation by the State of Florida Legislature
- 1983 Honorary Doctorate from Dickinson College
- 1983 National Opera Institute's Award for Service to American Opera - the highest honor the institute bestows
- 2001 Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 2004 National Medal of Arts from the White House
- 2008 National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honoree for lifetime work
- 2010 Anton Coppola Excellence in the Arts Award from Opera Tampa
- 2012 Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Man of Music - the highest honor for a member of the American music fraternity.
- Susannah (Studer, Hadley, Ramey; Nagano, 1993–94) Virgin Classics
- Susannah (Curtin, Cassilly, Treigle; Andersson, 1962) [live] VAI
- Pilgrimage: excerpts (Treigle; Torkanowsky, 1971) Orion
- The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair (Neway, Treigle; Rudel, 1963) VAI
- Markheim (Schuh, Treigle; Andersson, 1966) [live] VAI
- Of Mice and Men (Futral, Griffey, Hawkins; Summers, 2002) [live] Albany Records
- Cold Sassy Tree (Racette; Summers, 2000) [live] Albany Records
- Susannah: Revival Scene (Treigle; Yestadt, Treigle, 1958) [live] Bel Canto Society
- Willie Stark (Jesse; J.Keene, McDonough, 2007) [live] Newport Classic
- Tallahassee magazine.com, September-October 2009, The Restoration of Carlisle Floyd
- "Carlisle Floyd Biography". Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
- “The Fifteenth Year - Opera Tampa”. Tampa Bay Magazine. September 2009, pg 194. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- "Carlisle Floyd's Operatic Southland," liner notes by Brian Morgan, The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, VAI, 1999.
- Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd. The Authorized Biography, by Thomas Holliday, Syracuse University Press, 2013.
- Operas we would like to see again
- Opera's southern gentleman
- Carlisle Floyd @ Boosey & Hawkes
- The Essential Carlisle Floyd.
- Interview with Carlisle Floyd by Bruce Duffie, May 4, 1991