May 17, 2019

Carlisle Floyd

Carlisle Floyd is one of America’s most celebrated composers of opera. His operas are rooted in America, both in subject and in style, and are widely performed in the United States and abroad. They include Susannah (1955), The Passion of Jonathan Wade (1962; revised, 1990), Of Mice and Men (1970), Bilby’s Doll (1976), Willie Stark (1981), and Cold Sassy Tree (2000).

As he celebrated his 80th birthday in 2006, he told the Houston Chronicle he considered the acclaimed Cold Sassy Tree to be his professional finale. However, he went on to write another opera, Prince of Players, which received its premiere at Houston Grand Opera in March 2016.

“With a commitment that rivals Smetana’s in Bohemia or Britten’s in Britain, Floyd has striven to create a national repertory … He has learned the international language of successful opera in order to speak it in his own accents and to enrich it with the musical and vernacular idioms of his own country.”  – Andrew Porter, The New Yorker

Born in 1926 in Latta, South Carolina, the son of a Methodist minister, Floyd earned both a bachelor and master of music degree in piano and composition at Syracuse University. He began his teaching career in 1947 as part of the piano faculty at Florida State University (FSU), eventually becoming a professor of composition. It was at FSU that he wrote his first nine operas, including Of Mice and Men (1969) and his most popular, Susannah (1953–54).

Aside from composing, Floyd is also his own librettist, having written the libretto for all 12 of his operas. His works are among the most performed operas by American composers. He is said to speak in a uniquely American voice, capturing both the cadences and the mores of that society.

“It is my opinion that Susannah and the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess mark the two finest American operas ever composed. It brings me great joy and satisfaction to bring Carlisle’s important work to San Francisco Opera’s main stage season where it rightfully belongs.” – David Gockley, General Director, 2006 – 2016

Carlisle Floyd taught at Florida State University from 1947 to 1976, and in 1976 became the M. D. Anderson Professor of Music at the University of Houston. In Houston, he and David Gockley established the important Opera Studio, which for more than three decades has helped train young artists in the full spectrum of opera. Graduates include Erie Mills, Denyce Graves, and Joyce Di Donato.

A 2001 inductee of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Floyd has received numerous honors, such as a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Opera Institute’s Award for Service to American Opera. He was the first chairman of the NEA’s Opera/Musical Theater Panel, which the agency created in 1976. In 2004, he received a National Medal of Arts. In 2008, Floyd was the only composer to be included in the inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors.

“When I began writing my operas, there was no American opera, and there were very few American opera companies, and just to see what has happened in my lifetime is just… extraordinary.” – Carlisle Floyd

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