Fourteen years ago, famed composer and librettist Carlisle Floyd premiered his then-latest opera Cold Sassy Tree at the Houston Grand Opera.
This week, it is returning to Houston, this time at the University of Houston's Moores Opera Center. All that Director Buck Ross needed, as it turns out, "was a very good couple of basses and a very strong tenor and soprano," Floyd said.
The opera, based on a 1984 book by Olive Ann Burns, tells the story of a couple in an arranged marriage WHEN that eventually becomes a true marriage between an older man and a younger woman.
"It's essentially a comedy, but it has very serious elements and also tragic elements in it. It's a real variety of human experience," Floyd told Art Attack.
Best known for his work Susannah (1955), Floyd has had a long and much honored career starting with Slow Dusk (1949) and continuing to this day. "I'm at work on a new opera now. It's a very different story for me. It's set in 17th century England during the period of the Restoration. I hope it will be interesting for audiences."
In 1983 he received the National Opera Institute's Award for Service to American Opera, in 2001 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received the National Medal of Arts from the White House in 2004 and was a National Endowment for the Arts Opera honoree in 2008 for lifetime work.
The upcoming opera is a departure for him in that Floyd, who was born in South Carolina in 1926 and was a professor at UH where he served as M.D. Anderson Professor from 1976 to 1996, generally places his stories in the United States and often the South.
"I was always fascinated with the possibility of musical theater that our audiences in this country could respond to, something closer to them in terms of experience." Floyd said. "Stories and characters that had an American background; I haven't done that in every case but in most cases. And I think that our public needs to feel that opera's not something very exotic."
"In our country the audiences are going to respond to characters they can recognize from the experiences of their own lives. I wanted to create stories that seemed very real and very close to home."
Floyd encouraged attendance at his opera. "As far as audiences is concerned I don't think any audience member need have any fear of coming to Cold Sassy Tree. I think they'll find it appealing and accessible. I don't think they'll be tempted to doze off."
"Cold Sassy Tree" cast members include UH voice professor Cynthia Clayton and Emily Louise Robinson alternating the role of Love Simpson; Leah Bobbey and Julie Thornton alternating the role of Lightfoot McClendon; Tyler Beck and Alexander Scheuermann alternating the role of Will Tweedy; and Eric Lindsey and Aidan Smerud alternating the role of Rucker Lattimore.
"Cold Sassy Tree" will be performed April 4 - 7 in UH's Moores Opera House. 7:30 p.m. April 4, 5 and 7 and 2 p.m. April 6. For ticket information, visit the online box office or call 713-743-3313.