San Francisco Opera to Present Company Premiere of Carlisle Floyd's SUSANNAH, 9/6-21

San Francisco Opera presents the Company premiere of Carlisle Floyd's two-act opera Susannah September 6 at the War Memorial Opera House. Soprano Patricia Racette returns to San Francisco Opera in her role debut as the innocent, strong-willed and falsely accused young woman Susannah Polk. The all-American cast also includes bass Raymond Aceto as Reverend Olin Blitch, the itinerant preacher who targets Susannah as a sinner, and tenor Brandon Jovanovich as her hot-headed brother Sam Polk. This new production is created by director Michael Cavanagh and set designer Erhard Rom, who most recently brought their critically acclaimed Nixon in China production to San Francisco in 2012. Conductor Karen Kamensek, music director of Hannover State Opera, makes her Company debut. Susannah runs for five performances through September 21.

One of the most performed of all American operas, Susannah was the first score and libretto written by Carlisle Floyd to receive widespread attention. Loosely based on the Apocryphal story of Susanna and the Elders, Susannah features iconic music that evokes the work's rural Appalachian setting.

Following its initial premiere at Florida State University in 1955, where Floyd was on faculty at the time, the work was immediately revived at New York City Opera in a production that was then taken to Brussels for the 1958 World's Fair. Carlisle Floyd has written a total of 11 operas and is currently completing his twelfth, Prince of Players, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley has enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship with Carlisle Floyd, which resulted in the commissioning and premieres of three of the composer's operatic compositions at Houston Grand Opera: Bilby's Doll, Willie Stark and Cold Sassy Tree. In 1977, Gockley and Floyd worked together to found the Houston Grand Opera Studio young artist training program.

"It is my opinion that Susannah and the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess mark the two finest American operas ever composed," stated David Gockley. "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."

2014 marks Patricia Racette's 25th anniversary at San Francisco Opera; the American soprano has performed more than 30 roles with the Company. She makes her role debut as Susannah, a pretty young woman raised in the deeply religious and insular community of New Hope Valley, Tennessee. In demand around the globe for her portrayals of iconic operatic heroines such as Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly) and Tosca (Tosca), Racette also has a long history of creating new roles, including Love Simpson in Carlisle Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree, Leslie Crosbie in Paul Moravec's The Letter, Roberta Alden in Tobias Picker's American Tragedy, and the title roles of Picker's Emmeline and Dolores Claiborne. Recent career highlights include her first time performing the title role of Salome at the Ravinia Festival, Tosca for both Turin's Teatro Regio in Tokyo and the Metropolitan Opera (live in HD), and Maddalena in Andrea Chénier at the Met. In January 2015, Racette will make her fully staged role debut in the title role of Salome at Opera San Antonio and in April 2015 she is scheduled to appear as Nedda in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Pagliacci.

American tenor Brandon Jovanovich returns to San Francisco Opera as Susannah's impulsive brother, Sam Polk, reuniting Jovanovich and Patricia Racette following their enormous success performing together in Madama Butterfly (2007) and Il Tabarro (2009). Jovanovich's recent roles at San Francisco Opera include Lt. Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), Siegmund and Froh in the 2011 Ring cycle and the title role of Wagner's Lohengrin. Of his Lohengrin, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: "We knew he was good. I'm not sure we knew he was capable of this. In his debut as the mysterious, nameless knight . . . Jovanovich combined sweet-toned lyricism and ardent heroism in just the proportions required by this tricky role. His singing was thrillingly pure and tireless, his stage presence simultaneously tender and aloof." Jovanovich's other recent engagements include Don Jose? in Carmen with Los Angeles Opera, the Dallas Opera, and Houston Grand Opera; Don Jose? and the title role of Fidelio in Zurich; and the Prince in Rusalka at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Bass Raymond Aceto makes his role debut as Reverend Olin Blitch, the travelling preacher who falsely accuses Susannah of wrongdoing and is angered by her shamelessness. No stranger to many of opera's greatest villains, Aceto's repertoire includes Tosca's Scarpia, Rigoletto's Sparafucile, and Die Walküre's Hunding, which he performed at San Francisco Opera in 2010. Opera News said of his Scarpia: "Raymond Aceto's powerful, pathologically evil baron could have carried the night on his own. The varying colors of Aceto's bass and the nuances of his acting brought realism and depth to the role." Aceto's recent engagements include Timur in Turandot at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Daland in Der fliegende Holländer with Arizona Opera; Zaccaria in Nabucco in Florence; and Scarpia in Bologna.

Hannover State Opera music director Karen Kamensek makes her San Francisco Opera debut conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this production. She has previously led productions at Opera Australia, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin's Komische Oper, Bordeaux Opera, Dortmund Opera, Frankfurt Opera, Munich's Bavarian State Opera, Copenhagen's Royal Danish Theater, and Stuttgart Opera, among others. A close collaborator with composer Philip Glass, Kamensek has conducted the world premieres of his works Orphée and Enfants Terribles. Ian Robertson is the director of the San Francisco Opera Chorus.

This new production premiere -- directed by Michael Cavanagh with sets designed by Erhard Rom -- moves the setting from composer Carlisle Floyd's then-contemporary 1950s back one generation to the mid-1930s and a landscape shaped by the Great Depression and the American Dust Bowl. The production itself highlights the juxtaposition of Susannah, a beautiful child of nature, and the deeply religious and restrictive community she lives in. The stark planks and wooden boards that make up most of the crucial set elements are an allegory for a tamed forest-a lush natural setting transformed to a barren, denuded place by a community seeking to control what they don't understand. Costumes are designed by Michael Yeargan and lighting is designed by Gary Marder.

These performances mark the official Company premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah. For two performances in May 1964, Spring Opera Company -- a company affiliated with and organized by San Francisco Opera to produce opera in the spring, when the main company wasn't in season -- performed Susannah at the War Memorial Opera House with Floyd himself as stage director. Western Opera Theater -- a touring arm of San Francisco Opera that brought opera performed by young singers to communities throughout the Western United States -- included Susannah as part of its 1977 tour.

Sung in English with English supertitles, the five performances of Susannah are scheduled for September 6 (7:30 p.m.), September 9 (7:30 p.m.), September 12 (7:30 p.m.), September 16 (7:30 p.m.), and September 21 (2 p.m.), 2014.

San Francisco Opera Guild Insight Panel Discussion, August 28 - San Francisco Opera Guild will present an Insight Panel Discussion featuring composer and librettist Carlisle Floyd with members of the cast and production team from Susannah. The discussion will take place Thursday, August 28 at 6 p.m. in the Concert Hall at San Francisco Conservatory of Music (50 Oak Street). Insight Panels are free for San Francisco Opera members, subscribers and students with valid ID and $5 for the general public; tickets can be purchased at the door 30 minutes prior to the discussion.

Tickets for performances of Floyd's Susannah at the War Memorial Opera House are priced from $25 to $370 and may be purchased at or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office [301 Van Ness Avenue (at Grove Street), or by phone at (415) 864-3330]. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.

The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street. Patrons are encouraged to use public transportation to attend San Francisco Opera performances. The War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance of the Civic Center BART station and near numerous bus lines, including 5, 21, 47, 49 and the F Market Street. For more public transportation information, visit and

Casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about Susannah and San Francisco Opera's 2014-15 Season, visit


Patricia Racette
(Manchester, New Hampshire)
Susannah Polk
American soprano Patricia Racette celebrates her twenty-fifth anniversary with San Francisco Opera in 2014. A participant in the Adler Fellowship and Merola Opera Program, she has sung more than 30 roles with the Company, most recently the title role of Madama Butterfly, Julie LaVerne (Show Boat), Margherita and Elena (Mefistofele), and creating the title role of Tobias Picker's Dolores Claiborne. Other recent engagements include Cio-Cio-San in Barcelona; Tosca, Cio-Cio-San, Leonora (Il Trovatore), and Madame Lidoine (Dialogues des Carmélites) with the Metropolitan Opera; Tosca and the title role of Manon Lescaut at Washington National Opera; the Governess (The Turn of the Screw) with Los Angeles Opera; and the title role of Kát'a Kabanová for English National Opera. She has also created roles in several world premieres: Leslie Crosbie in Moravec's The Letter for the Santa Fe Opera; Love Simpson in Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree for Houston Grand Opera; the title role of Picker's Emmeline at the Santa Fe Opera; and Roberta Alden in Picker's American Tragedy at the Met. Racette has performed leading roles abroad at Milan's La Scala; the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Paris Opera; the Vienna State Opera; Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice; Bavarian State Opera; and the Maggio Musicale Festival. Her Met portrayals of Cio-Cio-San and Ellen Orford (Peter Grimes) were captured for that company's HD series and are available on DVD. Her latest recording, Diva on Detour, is a cabaret album produced by GPR Records and Naxos-a program she has performed live at the celebrated 54 Below (formerly Studio 54), the Ravinia Festival, and New York's Century Club. Recent career highlights include the title role of Salome at the Ravinia Festival, Tosca for both Turin's Teatro Regio in Tokyo and the Met (live in HD), and Maddalena (Andrea Chénier) at the Met.

Brandon Jovanovich
(Billings, Montana)
Sam Polk
Winner of the 2007 Richard Tucker Award, Brandon Jovanovich made his San Francisco Opera debut as Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) in 2007 and returned in 2009 as Luigi (Il Tabarro) in Il Trittico; as Siegmund and Froh in the 2011 Ring cycle; and in the title role of 2012's Lohengrin. The American tenor's career highlights include Don Jose? (Carmen) at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and in Munich, Berlin, Verona, and Barcelona; Cavaradossi (Tosca) with Canadian Opera Company, Seattle Opera, the Bregenz Festival, and in Nice and Cologne; Pinkerton with the Santa Fe Opera, the Dallas Opera, New York City Opera, and in Toulouse, Stuttgart, and Bordeaux; Boris (Ka?t'a Kabanova?) with Lyric Opera of Chicago; the title roles of Candide and Peter Grimes in Naples; Turiddu (Cavalleria Rusticana) with Houston Grand Opera and New York City Opera; S?teva (Jenu?fa) in Munich; Pollione (Norma) in Trieste; the Prince (Rusalka) with Minnesota Opera and at the Glyndebourne Festival; Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas) and the title role of Les Contes d'Hoffmann at Milan's La Scala; Bacchus (Ariadne auf Naxos) with Lyric Opera of Chicago; and the title role of Don Carlos with Houston Grand Opera. Jovanovich's recent engagements include Don Jose? with Los Angeles Opera, the Dallas Opera, and Houston Grand Opera; Don Jose? and the title role of Fidelio in Zurich; and the Prince (Rusalka) with Lyric Opera of Chicago.

(Brunswick, Ohio)
Reverend Olin Blitch

Raymond Aceto made his San Francisco Opera debut as Monterone in the 1997 production of Rigoletto and has returned to the Company as the Bonze (Madama Butterfly), the King of Egypt (Aida), Pietro (Simon Boccanegra), Zuniga (Carmen), Banquo (Macbeth), Hunding (Die Walküre), and Timur (Turandot). His recent career highlights include Scarpia (Tosca), Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra), Seneca (L'Incoronazione di Poppea), and Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte) at Houston Grand Opera; the title role of Nabucco at the Arena di Verona; Daland (Der Fliegende Holländer) at New Orleans Opera; Zaccaria (Nabucco) at the Metropolitan Opera and San Diego Opera; and Escamillo (Carmen) at Los Angeles Opera. He has also appeared as the Commendatore (Don Giovanni) with the Metropolitan Opera and Houston Grand Opera; as well as Walter (Luisa Miller), Leporello (Don Giovanni), Sparafucile (Rigoletto), and Fafner and Fasolt (Das Rheingold) with the Dallas Opera. His international career highlights have included Don Basilio (IL Barbiere di Siviglia), Nourabad (Les Pêcheurs de Perles), Banquo, and Sparafucile at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Ramfis (Aida) and Escamillo (Carmen) at Vienna State Opera and the Arena di Verona; Escamillo at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, the Arena di Verona, and Deutsche Oper Berlin; Ferrando (Il Trovatore) at Covent Garden and the Teatro Real in Madrid; and Fiesco, Ramfis, Escamillo, and Bidebent (Lucia di Lammermoor) at Deutsche Oper Berlin. Recent engagements include Timur at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Daland with Arizona Opera; Zaccaria in Florence; and Scarpia in Bologna.

Catherine Cook
Mrs. McLean
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook has appeared with San Francisco Opera in more than forty roles since her debut in 1991. Company credits include originating the roles of Jade Boucher in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking as well as Arlene Kamen and Wang Tai- Tai in StewArt Wallace's The Bonesetter's Daughter; the title role of Tobias Picker's Dolores Claiborne; Suzuki (Madama Butterfly), Mother Goose (The Rake's Progress), Annina (Der Rosenkavalier), Flora (La Traviata), Lapák the Dog and Woodpecker (The Cunning Little Vixen), Emilia (Otello), Marthe (Faust), Mrs. Sedley (Peter Grimes), and La Frugola, Sister Monitor, and La Ciesca (Il Trittico). Cook has sung with the Metropolitan Opera in Faust and Kát'a Kabanová; at Lyric Opera of Chicago in Peter Grimes, Le Nozze di Figaro, and IL Barbiere di Siviglia; with Houston Grand Opera as Marthe, Berta (IL Barbiere di Siviglia), and Tisbe (La Cenerentola); and she has appeared at Los Angeles Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, and Portland Opera as well as with the San Francisco Symphony. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Cook is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program and a former Adler Fellow. Recent engagements include Marthe with the Metropolitan Opera, and Mistress Quickly (Falstaff) with Opera Santa Barbara. She heads the department of voice at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and holds the Frederica von Stade Distinguished Chair in Voice there.

(Baldwinsville, New York)
Little Bat McLean
American tenor James Kryshak makes his San Francisco Opera debut in 2014. He made his professional opera debut in 2008 as Don Ottavio in Raylynmor Opera's production of Don Giovanni. Kryshak most recently became an ensemble member of the Vienna State Opera, making his debut in Tristan und Isolde. Other recent engagements there include the First Priest in Die Zauberflöte, Missail in Boris Godunov, Borsa in Rigoletto, the Third Jew in Salome, Scaramuccio in Ariadne auf Naxos, and the Schoolmaster in Janácek's Cunning Little Vixen. Kryshak spent two seasons with the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he sang several roles including Joe (La Fanciulla del West), Amelia's Servant (Un Ballo in Maschera), the Second Nobleman (Lohengrin), the Herald (Rinaldo), Monostatos in the student matinee performances of Die Zauberflöte, as well as several others.

(Chicago, Illinois)
Karen Kamensek makes her San Francisco Opera debut in 2014. Music director of the Hannover State Theater since 2011, her previous and upcoming productions there include Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Così fan tutte, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. She has led productions at Opera Australia, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin's Komische Oper, Bordeaux Opera, Dortmund Opera, Frankfurt Opera, Munich's Bavarian State Opera, Copenhagen's Royal Danish Theater, and Stuttgart Opera, among others. Kamensek cooperates closely with Philip Glass, whose work Orphée she led with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra in its world premiere as well as at the Festival in Weikersheim in Germany with the Jeunesses Musicales. She also conducted Glass´ world premiere of Les Enfants Terribles at the Spoleto Festival in the U.S.A. and his composition for Büchner's play Wozzeck performed at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Kamensek was First Kapellmeister at the Vienna Volksoper from 2000 to 2002, and she served as music director of the Freiburg Theater from 2003 to 2006. She has also been interim music director at the Slovenian National Theater and assistant music director at Hamburg State Opera.

(Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)
Michael Cavanagh made his San Francisco Opera debut with 2012's Nixon in China, a production he also directed at Vancouver Opera and Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Recent career highlights a return to Kentucky Opera to direct Of Mice and Men, Tosca at Montreal Opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Edmonton Opera, and Manitoba Opera's Die Zauberflöte. Former artistic director of Edmonton Opera, he has directed productions for every professional opera company in Canada, including Vancouver Opera, Opera Lyra Ottawa, Montreal Opera, Manitoba Opera, Calgary Opera, and Opera Hamilton. He has also directed many productions in the United States, including new productions and return engagements at Minnesota Opera, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Arizona Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Tulsa Opera, and numerous others. A recent highlight of Cavanagh's career was his 2006 Covent Garden debut, directing a new chamber opera, The Midnight Court. He has developed and staged many new pieces, such as James Rolfe's and George Elliot Clark's acclaimed Beatrice Chancy for The Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Company in Toronto. As a librettist Cavanagh has enjoyed critical and popular success with the productions of seven of his own operas.

(Seattle, Washington)
Set Designer
Having made his San Francisco Opera debut with 2012's Nixon in China, Erhard Rom has designed more than 150 productions across North America. Several of his designs have been featured in the Prague Quadrennial, and he has been responsible for many world premieres throughout the country, including the 2011 Glimmerglass Festival production of A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck. Among his many operatic credits are Jane Eyre, The Rape of Lucretia, Carmen, Faust, and La Bohème for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; Sweeney Todd, Don Pasquale, Alcina, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Così fan tutte, and Ariadne auf Naxos for Wolf Trap Opera; Don Giovanni, Susannah, The Tales of Hoffmann, and Aida for Virginia Opera; and Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Widow, and Rusalka for Minnesota Opera, as well as designs for Opera Colorado, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston, Montreal Opera, Atlanta Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Kentucky Opera, and Opera Cleveland, among many others. His theatrical productions have been regularly featured at Syracuse Stage and Geva Theatre Center, in addition to Indiana Repertory Theatre, Folger Shakespeare Theatre, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz, among others.

Michael Yeargan
(Dallas, Texas)
Costume Designer
Since his San Francisco Opera debut with the 1993 staging of I Puritani, Michael Yeargan has designed sets and costumes for the Company's productions of The Merry Widow, La Bohème, Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Rigoletto, Luisa Miller, Das Rheingold, Simon Boccanegra, the world premieres of A Streetcar Named Desire and Dead Man Walking, and the 2011 Ring cycle. Yeargan's North American opera credits include designs for the Metropolitan Opera (Otello, Così fan tutte, Ariadne auf Naxos, IL Barbiere di Siviglia, Les Contes D' Hoffmann, and the world premiere of Harbison's The Great Gatsby); Los Angeles Opera (Nabucco, The Merry Widow, Stiffelio, Hansel and Gretel); Lyric Opera of Chicago (Antony and Cleopatra, Cavelleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Nabucco, The Pirates of Penzance); the Dallas Opera (Madama Butterfly, Rigoletto, Hansel and Gretel); Houston Grand Opera (Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree and Susannah); and Glimmerglass Opera (Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Central Park), among others. Internationally, he has designed productions for Welsh National Opera; the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Scottish Opera; Théâtre Musical de Paris; Frankfurt Opera; and Opera Australia. A two-time Tony Award winner (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza), Yeargan has also designed New York productions of Terrence McNally's Bad Habits, The Ritz, Awake and Sing, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. He has worked extensively with regional theaters throughout America and is a professor of stage design at the Yale School of Drama.

Gary Marder
(San Diego, California)
Lighting Designer
Resident lighting designer for San Francisco Opera, Gary Marder made his Company debut this past season with his designs for Mefistofele, Der Fliegende Holländer, IL Barbiere di Siviglia, Madama Butterfly, and La Traviata. His work has been seen at venues across the globe, including The Magic Flute in Sydney; La Traviata at Turin's Teatro Regio as well as in Tokyo; The Makropulos Case and Samson et Dalila at Houston Grand Opera; Samson et Dalila, IL Barbiere di Siviglia, Carmen, Peter Grimes, and Norma at San Diego Opera; Dialogues des Carmélites with Palm Beach Opera; La Clemenza di Tito in Toronto; Tosca with Opera New Jersey; Aida at the Dallas Opera; and in Boston, Connecticut, Barcelona, and Baden Baden. Marder served as assistant resident lighting designer for the Metropolitan Opera for twelve seasons and associate resident lighting designer at New York City Opera for five years.

Pictured: Patricia Racette © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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