Susannah is topical relevance, like it or not

Susannah is topical relevance, like it or not

Aaron Short and Chelsea Basler in Susannah, Nashville Opera, 2018. Photo by Anthony Popolo.

The closing production of Nashville Opera's eclectic 2017-2018 season was Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, which ran from April 6-8. This season featured some truly fantastic singing, in no small part by this cast.

Nashville Opera Artistic Director John Hoomes has a knack for programming operas that take on topical relevance (how does he know?) and this production is no exception. Susannah is the all-too-common story of a woman, accused and ostracized by her community, raped, and left with more questions than answers, and even less justice. Floyd's music, at once both modern and nostalgic, presents a challenge to its musicians that Nashville Opera's singers took on and largely conquered.

Chelsea Basler in Susannah, Nashville Opera, 2018. Photo by Anthony Popolo.

Chelsea Basler, who sang the title role, carried the production effortlessly. Her big, lyric voice is clean and shimmering, full of life and innocence, and moves smoothly. Her treatment of the two canonical favorite arias, "Ain't it a pretty night?" and "The trees on the mountain" were both show-stopping, but "The trees on the mountain" was a particular triumph. Basler navigated Susannah's rageful descent from innocence artfully, and drew her audience in for the trip.

Susannah's brother, Sam, was played by Aaron Short. His steadfast and bright tenor voice is suited to the role, as its edges are rounded with the warmth of a caring, older brother. Short's sensitive musicianship and acting capabilities were prominently displayed in Susannah; with hope, this young tenor will continue to sing many more great roles.

Chelsea Basler in Susannah, Nashville Opera, 2018. Photo by Anthony Popolo.

A powerful performance was given by bass-baritone Gustav Andreassen, as Olin Blitch. The ominous, black water of his voice washed over the audience and at times its dominance was poignantly arresting. While intense, Andreassen's voice remained smooth and controlled, even paired with the sometimes-angular score. A testament to his dramatic prowess, the audience hated Blitch in the best way.

Gustav Andreassen in Susannah, Nashville Opera, 2018. Photo by Anthony Popolo.

Also of note were performances given by Mary Ragland Emerging Young Artists Connor McDonald as Elder McLean, Allison Deady as Mrs. McLean, and Brian Skoog as Elder Hayes, all of whom sang roles in Hercules vs. Vampires, produced earlier in Nashville Opera's season. The Nashville Opera Chorus, led by chorusmaster Amy Tate Williams, tackled the difficult score with robust sound and vigor, and were themselves as important a character as the principals in the opera.

Gusta Andreassen in Susannah, Nashville Opera, 2018. Photo by Anthony Popolo.

While the singing was namely very solid, diversity in casting was severely lacking. The entire 2017-2018 season lacked diversity, which should be rectified. In the future, I hope Nashville Opera casts a wider demographic of singers. With its tendency to program boundary-pushing works, surely Nashville Opera's 2018-2019 will be as titillating as this one was.

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Written by

Tracy Monaghan

Tracy Monaghan

Tracy Monaghan is a former opera singer, current independent musicological scholar, concentrating on twentieth-century choral and operatic works of British and American composers and literary analysis. After earning her B.M. in Vocal Performance from California State University, Northridge and living in Los Angeles for many years, she moved to Nashville, TN, where she currently resides. Tracy has performed roles and repertoire by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and others, and currently sings in the professional women’s choir, Vox Grata. She is also a skilled baker, and a pretty terrible knitter.

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