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Susannah

Buffalo Opera Unlimited and WNED PBS have joined together to present “Susannah,” an opera in two acts, by American composer, Carlisle Floyd. 

 

Written during the McCarthy era and set in 1955, “Susannah” focuses on 18-year-old Susannah Polk, who lives with her brother Sam in the small, religious community of New Hope Valley, Tennessee. After a seemingly innocent act, Susannah is shunned by the local community. What transpires leaves Susannah, her brother, and the entire town, shaken.

 

Susannah Presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited premieres Monday, November 22 at 9pm on WNED PBS. 


WNED PBS

Original Production

Premieres Monday, November 22 at 9 pm


 

Susannah: Presented By Buffalo Opera Unlimited

By Marty Wimmer 

WNED-Classical Program Host 

 

As the old proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Buffalo Opera Unlimited (BOU) dedicates itself to producing professional opera with an emphasis on regional artists and making opera more accessible to a broader audience. The pandemic, however, made live opera performances impossible to launch, so BOU found it necessary to reinvent itself and find new ways to produce operas. 

That’s where Buffalo Toronto Public Media (BTPM) comes in. The two organizations share similar goals and have found ways to collaborate. Their latest collaboration is the upcoming televised production of Susannah, an opera by the late American composer Carlisle Floyd (1926-2021). It will air on WNED PBS on Monday, Nov. 22 at 9 pm – right after Antiques Road Show

I recently sat down to talk about Susannah with Tim Kennedy, BOU’s Founder and Artistic Director, and Lynne Bader, Executive Producer of the televised production. 

Tim began by stating that, “Susannah has to do with religious hypocrisy. It’s set in a rural area where this young person (Susannah) is absolutely destroyed by the Elders of what I call a religious cult, and by the religious hypocrisy of her community.”  

The libretto is loosely based on the tale of Susannah and the Elders in the Book of Daniel. In the opera, Susannah Polk is an attractive 18-year-old woman. The male Elders of the local church see her bathing in a secluded creek. The men are conflicted between feelings of religiosity and lust. Unable to take responsibility for their own feelings, they blame them on Susannah and subsequently accuse her of evil and debauchery – and thus begins Susannah’s torment. It’s a powerful work that has rightly become one of the most frequently performed American operas, second only to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

Unlike most operas performed today, Susannah is in English, thus eliminating a language barrier for most viewers. Tim believes that performing operas in English is simply great. “Opera needs an audience, and whatever we can do to bring the viewer to opera is fine, and if we do it in English, it’s twice as good! Further, the diction from our singers is exceptional. You won’t have any problem understanding the words.” 

Musically, Susannah has a genuinely accessible, yet sophisticated American sound that appeals to opera aficionados, novices, and everyone in between. In keeping with its setting in Tennessee, the music is inspired by Appalachian folk tunes and Protestant church hymns, along with many customary operatic traditions. 

It’s not a tradition for BTPM to launch full operas in its television studios. In fact, this was the first time. So how did they make it work? Lynne began by asking, “How can we turn this 70’ X 90’ television studio into an opera stage and orchestra pit?” To answer this (and a thousand other questions) she assembled a team of production professionals led by Producer/Director Matt Gould. The team met frequently with Tim and his designers to plan for “production week” when everything would come together. Lynne explained the clever logistical scheme the team came up with. “We curtained-off a quarter of the studio and that’s where the orchestra was set. We did this to separate the sound between the orchestra and the singers. This was for our audio engineers to get a clean sound. But it presented a new challenge. How would the conductor see the actors and visa-versa when he’s behind a curtain? So, we set-up a monitor in front of the conductor so he could see the whole stage. On the flipside, our cameras have teleprompters, so we placed a camera on the conductor. This way the actors could just look at a camera to see the conductor.” 

And speaking of cameras, performing in front of television cameras is different from performing live on stage. The preparation is similar, but the execution is different. On stage, big gestures and expressions can work. Afterall, performers need to communicate their feelings all the way to the back row. On television, it’s different; the camera gets up close and personal, sometimes just inches away. It’s very intimate. Big gestures and expressions don’t always work; they can come across as overacting. Lynne said, “The use of multiple cameras and different camera angles allowed us to give that intimate performance. It’ll pull viewers right into the drama, and it’s what makes televised opera so different and special.”  

Whether you’re an opera expert, or just becoming acquainted with opera, every aspect of this production, including lighting and sound, sets and staging, costumes and make-up, and of course music and drama, was planned with you in mind. Further, you can experience all of it in the comfort of your own living room. 

See how it all came together - how necessity was the mother of invention – join us for Susannah, Monday, Nov. 22 at 9 pm on WNED PBS! 

Watch A Preview

Buffalo Toronto Public Media

Susannah Presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited Teaser

Buffalo Opera Unlimited and WNED PBS have joined together to present “Susannah,” an opera in two acts, by American composer, Carlisle Floyd. 

Watch this television broadcast only on WNED PBS, Monday, November 22 at 9pm.

Written during the McCarthy era and set in 1955, “Susannah” focuses on 18-year-old Susannah Polk, who lives with her brother Sam in the small, religious community of New Hope Valley, Tennessee. After a seemingly innocent act, Susannah is shunned by the local community. What transpires leaves Susannah, her brother, and the entire town, shaken.


Susannah Presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited is made possible by The New York State Council on the Arts, The Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation, and the members of WNED PBS. Thank you.

Cast Biographies

Emily Yancey (Susannah Polk)  

Yancey has been performing professionally in operas, musicals, and plays for nearly 10 years, appearing with such WNY companies as Buffalo Opera Unlimited, Nickel City Opera, MusicalFare Theatre, Alleyway Theatre, O’Connell & Company, Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and more.  She is the recipient of three individual Artie Award nominations (Factory for Murderers, Supporting Actress, Play; Killer Rack, Leading Actress, Musical; 1776, Supporting Actress, Musical).  Find out more about Emily, including upcoming performances, by visiting www.eyancey.com

Lorenzo Shawn Parnell (Sam Polk) 

Lorenzo Shawn Parnell is thrilled to return to Buffalo Opera Unlimited for another exciting production. His previous BOU credits include the World Premiere of The Fall of Stage Lee, Dr. Blind in Die Fledermaus, A Salute to Duke Ellington and the Prince in Cinderella.. Mr. Parnell’s most recent credits are Coalhouse Walker Jr. In Ragtime At Musicalfare, Eddie Souther in Sister Act The Musical at The Lancaster Opera House, and Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray at the Kavinoky Theatre. Lorenzo is also the lead vocalist for Twilight Entertainment and a member of Actors Equity Association. Mr. Parnell received his BA from SUNY Fredonia, where he studied with Joe Dan Harper. 

Bryan Jackson (Rev. Olin Blitch)  

Jackson, a baritone and native of Birmingham, Alabama has enjoyed steady success on the regional and nation level. After studying first in Spoleto, Italy and then in Graz, Austria, Bryan made a series of principal debuts, first at The Washington National Opera, then subsequently with the New York City Opera, The National Symphony Orchestra, The National Philharmonic Orchestra, Washington Concert Opera, Teatro Nacional Panama, Washington Opera Camerata, Opera Belcantanti, The In-Series, and the Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia, among others. Bryan won second place in the Meistersinger Competition in Graz, Austria (AIMS 2002) and was a MacAllister Award semi-finalist.   

Tyler Huk (Little Bat McLean) 

Tyler is super excited to make his debut with Buffalo Opera Unlimited performing the role of Little Bat. While attending SUNY Fredonia studying Voice with Dr. Kimberly Upcraft, Tyler performed various roles including Ferrando in WNYCO’s production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Benedict in the Hillman Opera’s virtual production of Berlioz’s Beatrice et Benedict, and other roles in SOTA’s Opera Scenes. In early December, Tyler will perform in Buffalo Opera Unlimited’s production of Bizet’s Carmen as El Remendado and each Sunday he serves as a lead singer in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church’s Chancel Choir.  

Jeffrey J. Thompson (Elder Gleaton) 

Thompson has performed throughout western New York with such groups as Buffalo Opera Unlimited, Opera Sacra, Rochester Lyric Opera, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Western New York Chamber Orchestra, and the Chautauqua Symphony.  Among his favorite operatic roles are Faust, Goro (Madame Butterfly), Chaplain (Dialogues of the Carmelites), Ferrando (Cosi fan Tutte), and The Lamplighter (Little Prince).  As a singer, he has a particular interest in performing sacred oratorio and 20th century British art song.  He is the organist and music director at Baker Memorial UMC in East Aurora. Outside of music, he works as an emergency physician with UBMD Emergency Medicine at ECMC and Buffalo General Hospital and has served on faculty at Myungsung Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  

James Judd (Elder Hayes) 

Judd has performed as tenor soloist in Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, Händel’s Messiah, Honegger’s Le Roi David, and Orff’s Carmina Burana.  Operatic roles include Ferrando in Così fan tutte, the title role in La clemenza di Tito, Alfredo in Die Fledermaus, Asgar in the U.S. Premiere of Arshin mal alan, and King Kaspar in Amahl and the Night Visitors. He has appeared with BOU as Claude in the world premiere of The Fall of Stag Lee, as Tamino in Magic Flute and both roles of the Kronprinz and Johnathan Dale in Silent Night.  He holds a Master of Arts in Vocal Performance from The University of Iowa, and is currently employed as a Professor of Voice at Fredonia. 

Alfonzo Tyson (Elder McLean) 

Tyson is a Buffalo native who has performed in various local productions since the mid-1980s. His Buffalo Opera Unlimited productions included Don Alfonso in "Cosi fan tutte" and Bill Curtis in "The Fall of Stag Lee".  

Stephen Edge (Elder Ott) 

Edge sings regularly with the Westminster Presbyterian Choir and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and sings periodic local recitals. He studies voice with Kyle van Schoonhoven and Leah Wietig. By day, he is a cancer physician and Vice President at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo. 

Meghan Attridge (Mrs. Gleaton) 

Originally, from Hamburg NY, Meghan Attridge has been working as a music teacher in the city of Buffalo for the past ten years. In addition to playing Mrs. Gleaton for this production, she has portrayed First Lady (The Magic Flute), and The Mother (Hansel and Gretel). Favorite roles include Tisbe (La Cenerentola, Lakes Area Music Festival) and The Governess (The Turn of the Screw, Eastman Opera Theatre). Meghan graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 2009.  

Simoya Ghajar (Mrs. Hayes) 

Ghajar’s love for music began while living in Saudi Arabia where she was able to travel with her school honor choir to Dhaka, Bangladesh and Muscat, Oman. Once back in the United States, Simoya became a part of ABC Amherst Bel Canto Choir, and later the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. Currently, she is studying Early Childhood Education and looks forward to working with elementary students. 

Jenna Washburn (Mrs. McLean) 

Washburn, originally from Hamburg, NY, is a graduate of Michigan State University. She holds an M.M. degree in Vocal Performance, as well as B.M. degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education. Washburn has performed several leading roles with MSU Opera Theatre, including Mimì in La Bohème, Dorabella in Così fan tutte, and Anna Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. Following graduation, Jenna covered the role of Alice in Verdi’s Falstaff for the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance program in New York City. Most recently, Washburn has been seen as Giannetta in BOU’s production of L’Elisir d’Amore and now as Mrs. McLean in BOU’s collaboration with WNED PBS. 

Joelle Lachance (Mrs. Ott) 

Heralded as a “thrilling, powerful voice with a melting pianissimo” (Boston Musical Intelligencer),“nuanced combination of pitch control and power” (rochestercitynewspaper.com), and “a hoot!” (thebargainhunter.com), Joelle Lachance has performed a variety of roles including Coralie in The Daring of Diane (Ohio Light Opera), Julie in The Ship's Captain (The Musicians of Ma’alwyck), Hansel in Hansel and Gretel (New York Lyric Opera Theater), Third Lady in The Magic Flute (Barn Opera), Lucinda in Into the Woods (Ohio Light Opera), and First Spirit in The Magic Flute (Glimmerglass Festival). Known for her “simply thrilling - disciplined, precise” performances (The Freeman’s Journal), Joelle was a quarter finalist in the 2020 MONC auditions, semi-finalist in the 2019 Harold Haugh Light Opera Competition, a finalist in the 2018 Barn Opera Vocal Competition, and a winner of the 2012 Rising Stars Competition at Nazareth College and  her Carnegie Hall debut in New York Lyric Opera’s Night of Music (November 2019).  

Susannah Presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited is made possible by the New York State Council on the arts and the Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation.

New York State Council on the arts