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.
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 His next opera, The Fugitives, was seen at Tallahassee in 1951, but was then withdrawn.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. His students there included Michael Ching and Craig Bohmler. 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, another Floyd 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 produced a new opera by Floyd on March 5, 2016, Prince of Players, about the 17th-century actor, Edward Kynaston, conducted by Summers.