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Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" is the spring production of the University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble. Based on the story of Susanna and the Elders from the Apocrypha, with score and libretto by Floyd, it's the story of a young woman unjustly ostracized by her rural community.
Susannah is "just an innocent, perfect, beautiful young woman," said Robert Breault, director of opera studies at the U., who will co-direct the student production.
But she's an outsider in her small town, partly because she has been brought up by her alcoholic brother. When the town elders, looking for a place to hold baptisms, encounter Susannah innocently bathing in the creek behind her home, they project their lustful impulses onto her and the gossip shifts into high gear, setting tragic events in motion.
"It's a tragedy that's as old as the [biblical] Book of Daniel and as relevant as the so-called political war on women," Breault said of the 1955 opera. "We see it on almost a daily basis women hate beautiful women just because they're beautiful, and men lust after those women. ... It could be any religion, it could be any culture, it could be any place."
That's the thing about opera, Breault said. "As exotic as it may be, it's about your next-door neighbors. It's about human beings." He hopes the opera's anti-hypocrisy message won't be lost on viewers because it's easy to dismiss the backwoods characters as "not like us."
"It's not only relevant, but important that people continue to see themselves and learn from these tales," he said. "It's a cautionary tale."
Though "Susannah" is considered part of the standard repertory, the opera remains something of a rarity in Utah. Logan's Utah Festival Opera staged it in 2001 and the soprano arias "The Trees on the Mountains" and "Ain't It a Pretty Night" show up occasionally on recitals and auditions.
Don't let unfamiliarity scare you away, Breault said. "It feels like a fast-paced movie it's riveting. There are a couple of short times the action stops for those beautiful arias, but it seems like a made-for-TV movie."
Michael Scarola, a New York-based director, will co-direct the production with Breault; Robert Baldwin, the U.'s director of orchestras, conducts.
The University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble presents Carlisle Floyd's 1955 opera "Susannah," which was based on an account from the Apocrypha, and is sung in English.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
When • Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets •$20; $10 for students; http://www.kingtix.com