southern expressive

Carlisle Floyd
Some thoughts on the Florida State Opera production of Carlisle Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree (2000) I attended this weekend:

  • As is almost always the case, the production and performance were of as high a quality as one could hope for from a university opera company. These productions are mounted for academic credit and are given a fraction of the support given to many other activities that are, frankly speaking, not strictly related to a university's mission.
  • The renovated Ruby Diamond Concert Hall continues to amaze me with its sound, its appearance (more on that in a bit), and its comfort. Well done.
  • The warm colors of Lighting and Scenic Designer Peter Dean Beck's sets and lighting, along with Julia Bradley's costumes, fit so well with Diamond's wood trim and sky-painted walls it was as if the hall itself was an extension of the opera's setting.
  • The Opera Orchestra (conducted by Director of Opera Activities Douglas Fisher) sounded great, as did the singers, soloists and choristers alike.
  • Florida State Opera productions typically provide a visually dynamic theatrical experience. This is due, in large part, to Stage Director Matthew Lata's skill in handling movement on the stage, particularly the movements of groups of people--no "park and bark" here. Cold Sassy Tree did not provide opportunities for elaborate effects or stunning coups de theatre, but Lata's staging was compelling and eye-rewarding. Particularly expressive were a "declaration of love" scene at the end of Act Two and a robbery at the beginning of Act Three.
  • Floyd's music is melodic and sumptuous, though he (wisely, to my ear) eschews big song-like tunes in favor of expressively shaped lines that serve the dramatic shapes of the libretto. The score never resorts to Southern Eccentric cliche, and is beautifully and imaginatively orchestrated.
  • I was struck particularly, even awe-struck, if truth be told, by Floyd's storytelling mastery in this opera. I have not read Olive Ann Burns' 1984 novel, but I am given to understand that Floyd's scenario prunes away a good number of sub-plots and characters. What remains is a shapely story, which Floyd, setting his own libretto, paces with a sure hand. I recommend the study of this opera and libretto to anyone foolish enough who wishes to write an opera.
  • Finally, it was very moving to see the composer come on stage to the rapturous applause that greeted the end of the performance. It was a fine cap to a great evening in the theater.

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