BWW Reviews: SF Opera's SUSANNAH a Stunning Masterpiece

BWW Reviews: SF Opera's SUSANNAH a Stunning MasterpieceSet in Tennessee around the time of the Dust Bowl, "Susannah" takes its inspiration from a story in the book of Daniel. Composer Carlisle Floyd's decision to remove the original's redemptive prophet seems to condemn Christianity, but also gives his revised version the dramatic thrust needed to explore the human condition and turn out a masterpiece.

"Susannah" replaces Daniel with a preacher fighting for the souls of others, and eventually his own soul. The title character is an innocent youth dramatically changed by the uncontrolled emotions of a religious revival and the self-righteous hate of hypocrites, both still prevalent and relatable today.

In San Francisco Opera's new production, Patricia Racette brings a wonderful sense of youth to Susannah, despite a large age difference. Her transition from a first act aria celebrating the beauty of evening to a second act aria wishing for the return of spring is incredible to witness. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich has perhaps the most stunning and memorable voice of the production as Susannah's brother, Sam Polk. And Raymond Aceto's Rev. Olin Blitch is appropriately handsome and conflicted.

Underneath the modern tone of his singers, Floyd provides overwhelming music that belongs with scores to epic Biblical films. With conductor Karen Kamensek and the San Francisco Orchestra, sweeping sounds often build to spine-tingling greatness. Bits of folk music add to the charm of the opera's earlier, and happier, moments.

Erhard Rom's scenic design contrasts modern, clean lines with backwoods trees and takes advantage of Gary Marder's vivid lighting design. The scene changes, with beautiful projections of mountain trees, could use some sound affects to make up for awkward silences and visible performers waiting in the dark. And at Tuesday night's performance began, some of the ensemble had trouble projecting. But small complaints mean nothing measured next to the otherwise technical perfection on display, both in the voice and in the production values. At just over two hours long, "Susannah" leaves its audience in deep thought and awe.

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SUSANNAH
Through September 21
San Francisco Opera

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