Carlisle Floyd

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From left to right, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia honors the first class of National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honorees in 2008: Leontyne Price, Carlisle Floyd, and Richard Gaddes.

Carlisle Floyd (born June 11, 1926) is an American opera composer. The son of a Methodist minister, he has based many of his works on themes from the South. His best known opera, Susannah (1955), is based on a story from the Biblical Apocrypha, transferred to contemporary, rural Tennessee, and is set in a Southern dialect.


Floyd was born in Latta, South Carolina, the son of a Methodist minister.[citation needed]

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 stayed there for thirty years, eventually becoming Professor of Composition. He received a master's degree at Syracuse in 1949.

Composing career[edit]

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 His next opera, The Fugitives, was seen at Tallahassee in 1951 but was withdrawn.

His third opera was his 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) 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, 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. His students there included Michael Ching and Craig Bohmler.[1][2] 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 a hiatus of almost twenty years, another Floyd opera 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 (1957, two years after Susannah) for Rudolf Firkušný, who played it at a Carnegie Hall recital, but it 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.[3]

The Houston Grand Opera produced a new opera by Floyd on March 5, 2016, Prince of Players, about the 17th-century actor, Edward Kynaston, conducted by Summers.

Major works[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  • Susannah (Studer, Hadley, Ramey; Nagano, 1993–94) Virgin Classics
  • Susannah (Curtin, Cassilly, Treigle; Andersson, 1962) [live] VAI
  • Wuthering Heights (Jarman, Mentzer, Markgraf; Mechavich, 2015) [live] Reference Recordings
  • 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
  • Susannah (Spatafora, Webb, Donovan; Sforzini, Unger, 2014) [live] Naxos


  1. ^ "Career Guide: Latest Additions & Changes" Archived 2015-09-23 at the Wayback Machine. Central Opera Service Bulletin. Vol. 22, No. 4., Winter/Spring 1981. p. 34.
  2. ^ Ching, Michael. "Carlisle Floyd". Opera and Beyond. September 28, 2011.
  3. ^ "Tallahassee Magazine: Events, Food, Culture, Home and Style coverage for the Tallahassee Area". Archived from the original on 30 November 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2016-03-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), Retrieved March 2016
  5. ^ "Carlisle Floyd Biography". Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  6. ^ “The Fifteenth Year - Opera Tampa”. Tampa Bay Magazine. September 2009, pg 194. Retrieved February 28, 2013.

External links[edit]