Composer Carlisle Floyd
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
I had spoken briefly with Carlisle Floyd a few times as we tried to
arrange an appointment for an interview. Finally we found a
convenient hour just five weeks before his sixty-fifth birthday.
Here is what was said on the telephone that afternoon in 1991 . . . . .
. . . .
I’m sorry to have been so delinquent in
getting back to you,
but my life has not been my own for the last three years, especially
the last eighteen months. This new opera of mine is
having four productions.
Is it good when an opera is produced in more than one place at the same
time, or approximately the same time?
certainly the wave of the future — joint or
co-productions. This is the first time this has ever happened to
me with a new opera. It certainly is very exciting, and I’m very,
very happy with the outcome of working with four companies.
BD: What is
the name of this opera?
CF: The Passion of Jonathan Wade.
It’s a new version of the opera I wrote in 1962. By new, I mean
it’s not just revised; it’s very much overhauled and rewritten.
happens when someone comes to you and says, “I liked the old version
that’s too bad. [Both laugh] I don’t, or I wouldn’t have
spent two to three years preparing this one.
BD: The four
different productions — are they four different stage sets, or did the
stage set travel from place to place?
co-producers are all using the same production and much of the same
BD: And same
staging it everywhere, yes. It’s opening in Houston in January,
then we’re on to Miami in March and San Diego in April, and we’ll
finally be seen in Seattle next November. So we’re covering the
BD: How have
the audience reactions been to your works, and are they similar or
different from city to city?
Consistently enthusiastic from city to city. Of course, all these
cities have very different population mixes, so we didn’t know what to
expect, but they have been remarkably enthusiastic everywhere, thank
BD: What do you
expect of the audience that comes to see one of your operas, or hear
one of your symphonic works?
CF: I really
am primarily an operatic composer. I’ve done a few pieces for
orchestra, but very few. I expect the audience to be engrossed in
the stage action, and to have a total theatrical experience in which
one element does not dominate — either the music or the drama or the
production itself. The concept of total theater in which all the
parts are fused is a very exciting one, and all too rarely realized.
BD: Are all
the parts fused on the page, or do all the parts only fuse when you
bring it to the stage?
CF: Only when
you see it on the stage. It’s certainly conceived with that in
BD: You write
all your own libretti?
BD: So you’re
really a one-man circus!
CF: Well, in
this case, I was, yes. I’ve staged my own operas for the last
thirty years, but I’ve never staged a world premiere before. I
was asked by David Gockley [of the Houston Opera] and Robert Heuer [of
the Miami Opera], who were the co-commissioners of this new version, to
do the staging of this one, so I accepted. I figured I may as
well do it from the beginning, according to my own vision of the
piece. We had two magnificent designers that they gave me to work
with — Gunther Schneider-Siemssen did the sets
and Allen Charles Klein did the costumes. It’s a very
large-scaled opera, and I must say that the production is quite
BD: When you
conceive the idea, does it come to you as one piece or do you think of
it in smaller sections and put together?
CF: Oh, no,
no, no — one piece. You have to have a dramatic through-line in
everything you do for a piece to have any kind of organic
BD: Then as
you’re writing the words, do you have ideas of the music that’s going
BD: So you’re
writing a libretto which you then set?
CF: Yes, but
I know what I have to supply myself with as a composer. I’m just
not writing a libretto in thin air. It’s a very specialized
discipline, and takes a great deal of experience and probing to come up
with what goes into the making of the libretto. I think probably
the reason for the failure of most contemporary operas is poor
BD: Do you,
the composer, ever have fights with you, the librettist?
CF: Yup, from
time to time. The composer usually wins, but not always.
BD: So there
are some times when the dramatist in you insists and gets his way?
absolutely. But frequently music makes its own demands.
It’s very difficult to eliminate sections that you’re particularly fond
of musically because they are probably expendable dramatically.
That’s the most difficult part of it.
BD: Do you
then save those little bits of music and use them elsewhere?
CF: No, not
usually. Not unless I do another version of the same opera.
BD: Do you
usually go back and revise scores, or do they generally stand as they
are finally put on the stage?
CF: I revise
endlessly before I first do it. Then I revise in rehearsals and
subsequently. Usually I don’t really leave a work alone until it
goes in the publication. Then I figure that’s it. You have
to finally let it go. So although this work was revised and
rewritten and then further revised after I saw it in lab productions,
just to get as perfect a work as I could come up with I still made a
number of changes and cuts in the actual rehearsal period.
BD: Are the
revisions mostly cuts rather than additions?
CF: Yes, cuts
and elisions. Then, interestingly enough I suppose, I restored
some of the cuts in later performances, even in San Diego.
BD: As you
were getting used to the work?
CF: I just
missed certain things that I had cut. In the heat of getting
something prepared for its first performance, you just don’t have the
perspective that you have later, so you tend to overcut — or
at least I do. So what happened in this case was I restored maybe
three or four minutes.
BD: So it’s
not major things?
Have you ever thought about writing a libretto for someone else’s music?
seriously. I’ve been asked to write librettos for other
composers by them, but I’ve never done it. It would be very
difficult. If I came out with something that intrigued me
dramatically, I’d want to do it myself.
BD: So then
really you are the musician first, and you’re using the wordsmith’s
talents to further that?
CF: I don’t
think I would be very successful, frankly, at writing a
libretto that I didn’t feel real sympathy for, myself, and in that case
I would want to do it musically.
BD: Would you
ever object to someone else using one of you librettos that you’ve
particularly, no. I don’t think it would happen, but I
don’t think I would have particular objection to it. It would be
of intriguing for me to see what somebody else would do with the same
material. It’s not all that far removed from seeing a different
production of an opera of mine — different point of view, different
choices, different values — which is always
fascinating. Sometimes I don’t particularly like them, and other
times I think they’re very insightful.
BD: You say
you’re primarily an opera composer. Tell me the joys and sorrows
of writing music for the human voice.
CF: I just
think it’s the most marvelous instrument in the world to write for, and
the most difficult. Very few composers address themselves to
what’s involved in writing for the voice. It has its own
discipline. It’s not like writing for the clarinet or the flute,
in which you simply know what sounds good in what range, and the
changes that come up from range to range. The voice is much more
intricate than that because each voice type is a world into
itself. So it’s a lifelong study, yet, it’s obviously the primary
medium of expression in opera. Unfortunately, too few
contemporary composers simply take the time to really ponder and study
what makes something vocal, what is vocally easy and what’s vocally
taxing, and why.
BD: Why do they not
take the time?
CF: It’s just
not realizing how difficult it is to write for the voice.
BD: You mean
they’re satisfied with their substandard material?
CF: I don’t
know that they would consider it substandard. They’re still
thinking instrumentally in many cases. Writing for the voice is
probably a very special gift, although a great deal of the craft of it
can be learned, such as where the passaggio is for each vocal type, and
the scoring that you can use for a heavier spinto soprano as opposed to
just a lyric soprano, and just on and on. I don’t think it’s
deliberately and willful ignoring all the intricacies of writing for
the voice; I think it’s simply not being aware of them until they begin
to get complaints from singers.
BD: It seems
like most composers ignore complaints from singers.
they do so at their own peril because there is a great deal to learn
from working with singers.
BD: They know
their instruments better?
CF: Yes, and
they know what it takes to sing well. Unless you’re a singer
yourself, there are things they know that the voice and can do, and
where it can do it, that you just know!
started out as a pianist. When did you gravitate to the voice?
CF: I started
out writing songs when I was eighteen. So I always wrote for the
voice, but I think primarily I always liked the idea of fusing words
and music. I was always drawn to that.
Throughout your career you have steadfastly stayed with a melodic,
tuneful, very accessible kind of sound. Does it please you to
find that this is finally coming back into vogue?
because in my case, after much pondering it seems to me absolutely to
make no sense to write in a musical idiom that an audience is just not
able to respond to at any level. That doesn’t mean pandering to
audiences’ tastes. First of all, you have to write what you
honestly want to hear, but it’s like speaking to people in a foreign
language, otherwise. You have to have some connection,
no way of making some kind of a musical supertitle?
CF: No, I’m
afraid not, although it certainly is a boon for the librettist.
words obviously are in English. Do you use the supertitles anyway?
CF: We use
supertitles in all these productions.
BD: Are they
the exact words, or are they the gist of the words?
the exact words, but they’re not all of the words.
BD: So you
have to prune your own libretto?
CF: I don’t
do it. Someone else does it.
BD: Are you
pleased with how it looks?
CF: Yup, very much
so. To me, it doesn’t for one minute relax the necessity for
trying to have every word understood on the part of the singers and the
conductor as well as the composer, but, it’s simply there. We
call it a safety net. In case you miss a line, it’s up there, but
if you are forced to read the supertitles constantly, you’re bound to
be distanced emotionally from the stage, and that always concerns me.
BD: It seems
like the titles appear just before the words are sung, like a
they have to be timed very, very delicately. It’s really an art
form in itself so that you don’t give away a crucial line too soon in
the supertitles, nor too late. It takes very, very delicate
BD: Are we
going to come up with a new specialty, the Maestro of Titles?
CF: It’s very
possible. You can certainly damage what’s happening on the stage,
or be a great enabler for what’s happening on the stage.
with this idea for a moment, when your operas are produced in Europe,
would you rather they be translated...
their language, rather than in English with supertitles?
CF: I would
prefer that they be in the language of the audience, with supertitles
in that language.
BD: So you
want a double barreled dose?
CF: I want a
guarantee that the audience is fully aware of what’s going on on the
stage. I think it’s the greatest boon to opera in this country
since its beginning, because it’s always been done in the original
language — not always, but so frequently in this
country — and many people felt that they weren’t
getting the opera unless they were getting it in a foreign language,
which is of course, nonsense. It was always done in the language
of the audience in Europe until the Second World War.
BD: Do you
feel that the use of the supertitles here in America is going to mean
the death of European opera in English?
CF: It could,
but I don’t think that’s a great loss as long as you have the
BD: So for
the European operas, you don’t mind them being in Italian, French, or
German with the supertitles?
CF: No, just
as long as the surtitles are there.
BD: But you
want your operas done in their languages and translated?
CF: I would
prefer that, yes.
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] It seems like you’re riding both sides of the fence
on that one.
CF: I think
it would be great, if we had wonderful translations, to see all of our
operas done in English by performers who make a real point of singing
well in English. I certainly am for translations, but if this is
the best compromise we can make in this country — and it seems to be —
then I’m for it. The big controversy now is the idea of doing
operas in English and still using supertitles, but that one’s being
laid to rest with all these various companies now, when they do English
works, also having supertitles. They’re just simply there in case
one misses a line.
BD: So it’s
an aid, rather than part of the performance?
absolutely! If it becomes part of the performance, then I have
real aesthetic problems with it because then you lose the emotional
absorption with what’s happening on the stage, if it becomes a
distraction rather than an enhancement. Then I think we’re in
comes to mind immediately, then, are the productions by Peter Sellars
where he not only gives you the translation, but also stage directions
and asides and philosophy.
CF: I would
not favor that simply because that forces you to distance yourself
intellectually from the stage. It’s just a different concept of
theater. I am personally only interested in absorbing an
audience emotionally in what’s happening on the stage, and having them
be pulled into the stage. Anything that forces you to
intellectualize to that extent does just the opposite of that. It
depends on the piece, of course.
BD: Would you
be in favor of placing the supertitles near the bottom of the stage
rather than above it, to look very much like a television production
with the titles in the screen? That way the audience is looking
through the words and seeing the stage picture and the words together.
CF: No, I
wouldn’t want it to interfere with the stage picture at all. That
would definitely interfere with your feeling that you’re a part of the
BD: I’m just
trying to find out if the live stage should go even more the way of the
CF: I don’t
think so, not for the stage. The point is that audiences have
unequivocally embraced the idea of surtitles. They have something
like a ninety-eight percent favorable response. Obviously, I
think using subtitles in television productions certainly may have
paved the way. People got used to hearing and watching.
Also it’s done the most of anything to demystify opera, so the people
realize that what they’re seeing is not all that rarified, but
something very human and very universal.
BD: Is opera
it should be for everyone. I’m not sure that it is because
there’s just too great a range of values and theatrical concepts from
period to period. In present day opera houses, for instance, the
operas of Mozart seem a great more modern than mid-nineteenth century
operas. But the tastes of the periods are very different.
Our tastes are much closer to those of the eighteenth century. So
when you say, “Should it appeal to everyone?” I can’t say that.
Can you say, “Should all novels appeal to everyone?” Some people
are going to like Sir Walter Scott and some people are going to find
Sir Walter Scott impossibly dated. It’s the same way in
BD: But most
people would like novels as a form, whether or not they like this
particular author or not. So should the opera, the form, be for
CF: Yes, as
long as people are properly prepared that they’re seeing a work of a
different age with different values and with a different emphasis on
working in what has been developed into really a late nineteenth
century form. Does your work reflect the current age, even though
you are put into this old straightjacket?
CF: Oh, I
hope so. This opera, The
Passion of Jonathan Wade, for instance, is set in the
reconstruction period, yet I think the values and themes it deals with
are timeless. This is something which I think all good theater
should have. What makes any art form last is the fact that it is
not confined to a period, whether or not it does deal with timeless
been dancing around this, so let me ask the question straight
out. What is the purpose of music in society?
CF: To me,
music is the most mysterious and the most highly sophisticated of all
the arts, because it’s a direct conduit to the unconscious. It’s
far less explainable than painting, theater, or any other forms of
art. For that reason its great value to human beings is the fact
that is does reach us on an unconscious level. Theater can do
something of that, but not the extent that music can — the
same for poetry or painting or whatever.
Have you basically been pleased with the productions of your works
which you’ve seen?
depends. On the whole, yes, but almost always with some
reservations. We have such magnificent singing actors in
this country now and for the past two generations. I’ve been very
fortunate in that regard, in having superb realizations of roles.
BD: Are you
optimistic about the whole future of opera?
particularly. I think we live in a very curious time of
transition. The production of opera has proliferated beyond
anybody’s dreams in this country, but most of the companies hew to the
original repertoire and hew to one idea of what opera is. They
are a little timid about exposing their audiences to less familiar
works or even twentieth century works, so it’s a curious kind of
dichotomy. We have tremendous amount of operatic artistic
ferment, and at the same time it’s increasingly being used to acquaint
audiences with works that they don’t know as well as they know Bohème, and Butterfly, and Carmen. We need to see more
and more of that being done, in other words a diverse repertoire such
as you have going on right there in Chicago.
the Chicago Opera Theater, Lyric has its series called Toward the
Yes. Ardis [Krainik, General Director of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
for some time now has mixed her repertoire a great deal more than was
certainly the case twenty years ago there. [See my Interview with Ardis
Krainik.] She intends to do more and more of that. I
think that’s very heartening, and it’s happening in more and more
companies. I hope it will continue. That, to me, is a very
back to the compositional process, when you’ve got your text to work
with and you’re putting the music to the words, are you always
controlling where that musical line will go, or are there times when
the pencil seems to be drawing your hand upward or downward?
pencil doesn’t do it, but the inner ear certainly does. So much
of composition is totally unconscious. We apply craft and skill
after the unconscious has made itself manifest.
BD: You go
back and touch it up?
yes. Then we go back and start the editing process, but you’re
constantly drawing on the inner ear. That’s the repository of all
music, really. Where those sounds actually come from for a
composer — as opposed to a non-composer
— is endlessly mysterious to us, and probably always will
be. If we had other ways of expressing what music can express,
music would no longer exist.
[Genuinely surprised] Really??? Music would die???
CF: Well, I
don’t think it will ever happen, but if we could ever make the process
— that access to the unconscious — conscious,
then we would have had to replace it simply with something
that did the same thing. So we’d be sort of right back where we
started from. I can tell you, and I’m sure any composer you talk
to would tell you, that on occasion after occasion, he has no idea
where a musical theme comes from or why it comes when it does, or
anything else. It’s just there. It is nothing that one
summons up by effort of will.
BD: Do you
find the same kinds of things happening when you’re writing text?
CF: To some
extent, but not nearly as much. You’re dealing with a much more
palpable medium when you’re dealing with words than you are with
BD: We were
talking about performances, but what about the recordings? Are
you basically pleased with those?
[Note: We went over a list of the
works which had been recorded. At that time (1991), this included
The Mystery, a set of Five songs of Motherhood sung by Phyllis Curtin [See my Interview with Phyllis
Curtin] and The
Pilgrimage sung by Norman Treigle, as
well as a symphonic overture called In Celebration. Since that time, several other
items have appeared, including complete recordings (both audio and
video) of some of the operas.]
CF: I don’t
think they’re ideal recordings in terms of performance, but overall
it’s good to have a document of something even if it’s not
perfection. Both the song cycles that you’re speaking of were
recorded very quickly with limited amount of rehearsal time. Of
course the ideal is to have something like an opera done while it’s in
production, in which everything is very sharp.
BD: Why can’t more
of that be arranged? Is it just financial considerations?
Financial, always financial, especially in this country, yes!
You’re dealing with unions all the time.
BD: Have some
of your works been televised?
CF: Willie Stark was televised back in
’81 on Great Performances.
BD: Do you
feel that operas, either your own or by others, work on television?
yes. I felt very strongly about that with the piece of
mine. I’ve seen two of my operas. University of Washington
did an absolutely brilliant production in black and white of a one-act
opera of mine, Markheim,
which I thought worked beautifully and did things that you could never
do on stage. They really used the medium. They did it for
television with the kind of care and preparation that you probably only
have time for in the University station.
see. Would you ever consider writing something specifically for
television, as Menotti did with Labyrinth?
[See my Interviews
with Gian Carlo Menotti.]
BD: Why not?
CF: Because I
think the same thing would happen that happened to Labyrinth. It would be a
hopeful optimism] Even today, in the age of the VCR?
CF: Who’s to
say? A good stage piece could be certainly well adapted to TV,
but given the amount of time to write an opera that’s involved, a
composer would want something that would and could certainly have its
life extended beyond a telecast.
BD: I assume
that you are flooded with commissions. How do you decide which
ones you’ll accept and which ones you’ll turn aside?
CF: Oh, I’m
not flooded. I don’t know that any of us is really flooded to
that extent, because it takes a lot of money to commission a
BD: Is it
safe to say that you have more offers than you accept?
I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had commissions more or less over
the last thirty years, but it’s not all that difficult. Though it
has never come down to that, in my case it would depend on the
reputation of the company for its production values, and whether it
would accept the terms that opera companies have always accepted when
I’ve done commissions, of my having pretty much artistic control over
it in terms of casting and selection of conductor.
BD: Do you
feel you, as the creator, are in the best position to have that control?
CF: Yes, I
BD: You don’t
feel that another set of eyes or another brain on it would help?
CF: Oh well,
you’re going to get that anyway, because any energetic and far-sighted
general director is going to have ideas of his own, and they may be
better than yours. Or he may know a thing that you don’t know,
something that he has you hear that you are delighted that you
heard. It’s never come down to a tug of war.
BD: So you
want the control, but then you’re completely open to suggestions?
absolutely! It’s just a matter of safeguarding one’s work so that
it doesn’t really fall into inappropriate hands.
BD: At least
for the first time...
because that’s the crucial time.
BD: Do you
have any kind of control once the work has been launched?
Well, I have some control to the extent that some general directors
will call me for recommendations for singers for certain roles, but no,
after the piece is launched it has to have a life of its own. If
it’s stage-worthy and it’s going to have any chance of entering the
repertoire, it obviously has to be done more than one way and by more
than one person. It was very interesting in this recent opera, Jonathan Wade, that the major
soprano role now was sung by three different sopranos in three places,
and will be sung by a fourth in Seattle — all quite different, but all
quite legitimate, quite authentic. To me that’s proof of a role,
if it can be done successfully by several people, by a number of
BD: So you
allow your singers ideas and quite a bit of leeway?
CF: You have
to deal with the personalities of the singers, yes.
BD: Do you
ever alter a role just to fit a specific singer with a particular
CF: No, I
wouldn’t. I’ve never actually written a role for a particular
singer, except in one instance, and that was the role of Markheim which
I wrote for Norman Treigle. But other than that, no.
I simply write the role.
BD: But even
Markheim could be taken up by a Treigle-type bass?
absolutely! I would hope so, and it has been.
CF: Well, I don’t
know that it’s fun. Yes, it can be fun. It’s very, very
taxing. It takes immense and exhausting concentration, but goes
on like almost any other kind of activity. Unless you are
concentrated every minute, nothing happens. You can practice the
piano for an hour or so and have your mind someplace else, it may not
be as non-productive, but in composition you have to be there every
second or nothing really gets down. It’s exhilarating when things
are going well, and is very trying when things are not. But I
think the first outweighs the second.
BD: Do you
always have ideas for the piece that’s on your desk
even when you’re in hotel rooms or producing another opera?
On a number of occasions I have been in the process of staging an older
opera while I was working on a new one, but you simply have to switch
gears to do that.
BD: So it’s
not a constant process of working on one piece?
CF: As long
as I’m working on that one piece, yes it is. I can’t work on two
or three pieces, but staging is an altogether different activity.
doesn’t confuse you or cause schizophrenia?
no. It’s very creative, but it’s an altogether different kind of
activity than composing. I don’t want to do that much of it, so I
select that very carefully — whether I want to
do the opera again, do I want to work with this particular company, do
I feel an affinity for the aims of this particular company, or do I
have singers I want to work with? Many things go into
consideration of whether I accept a staging assignment or not.
BD: I am very
glad you have spent your life writing operas. The ones I have
seen and heard have been wonderful pieces. And I just want to
thank you for being a composer and sticking with it — especially
in this style, which has been out of fashion for so long, and yet
people have liked it all these years.
right, exactly. Old man Verdi knew a great many things, and he
said the audience is the final arbiter. I think he’s right.
Not that one caters or tenders to audience taste, but there had to be a
meeting ground there. First of all, our job is to entertain at a
very high level. And if you don’t do that, I don’t think you’ve
BD: Is there
a balance between entertaining and artistic achievement?
CF: Oh, sure,
absolutely. All great artists find it. Martha Graham felt
very strongly about this, that her first job was to entertain. It
means to absorb an audience, or take an audience outside of itself into
your own domain. That’s what we have to do to create the proper
artistic experience for an audience.
BD: As you
approach your sixty-fifth birthday, are you pleased with where you
are? Are you anywhere close to where you expected to be years ago
at this juncture?
CF: Yes, I
think so. I don’t have a feeling that I wish I had written
more. I wish I had known as much twenty-five years ago about just
the craft of writing operas and librettos. That, unfortunately,
just comes only with experience and mistakes. But other than
that, I would have to say yes, I’m satisfied with where I am now.
I feel that in many ways I’m just now learning how to write operas.
BD: Is the
best yet to come?
CF: I hope it
will always be there — the search
for more and more of what goes into this very fascinating art form,
what makes it work and what keeps it from working.
what to do and what not to do?
right. I work with young composers and librettists all the time,
and that keeps me very sharp. I just feel we have an obligation
to try to pass on what we’ve learned to people who are
BD: Do you
like what you see coming out of the pens of young composers?
depends on the composers. Writing for the theater is a very
special talent, and you either have theater blood or you don’t. I
must say that when I started out working with composers I didn’t feel
that way. I figured that anyone could write for the stage.
But if a person has real theatrical instincts as a composer, it’s
fascinating and exhilarating to work with them.
BD: So there
are some coming along?
Yes. I don’t think there are many, but I don’t think there have
ever been many. It’s not just happenchance [sic] that all of our
major operatic composers have been just operatic composers — with the
exception of Mozart. We all know that there’s only one Mozart!
[Laughs] That’s true. And there’s really only one Carlisle
[Laughs] I hope so, for better or worse.
BD: I want to
thank you for spending some time with me this afternoon. I’ve
learned a lot, and I’m glad we finally got a chance to chat.
CF: I am,
too. I’m glad that we were able to finally get together and talk
at a more leisurely time. If you had called three months ago, I
don’t think we would have been able to have this kind of
discussion. Thank you Mr. Duffie.
|Carlisle Floyd is one of the
foremost composers and librettists of opera in the United States today.
Born in 1926, Floyd earned B.M. and M.M. degrees in piano and
composition Syracuse University. He began his teaching career in 1947
at Florida State University, remaining there until 1976, when he
accepted the prestigious M. D. Anderson Professorship in the University
of Houston. In addition, he is co-founder with David Gockley of the
Houston Opera Studio jointly created by the University of Houston and
Houston Grand Opera.
Floyd’s operas are regularly performed in the US and Europe. He first
achieved national prominence with the New York premiere of his opera, Susannah (1953–54), by the New York
City Opera in 1956 after its world premiere at Florida State University
in 1955. In 1957 it won the New York Music Critic’s Circle Award and
subsequently was chosen to be America’s official operatic entry at the
1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Of Mice
and Men (1969) is Floyd’s other most often performed work. In
the 1998-99 season alone it was presented by New York City Opera, Utah
Opera, San Diego Opera, and Cleveland Opera. Based on the Steinbeck
novel, it was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and was given its
premiere by the Seattle Opera in 1970.
Floyd’s more recent operas, Bilby’s
Doll (1976) and Willie Stark
(1981), were both commissioned and produced by the Houston Grand Opera,
the latter in association with the Kennedy Center. A televised version
of the world premiere production of Willie
Stark opened WNET’s Great Performances series on the PBS network
in September of 1981. Floyd's latest opera, Cold Sassy Tree (2000) received its
premiere at Houston Grand Opera in April 2000. Subsequently, it has
been performed by Austin Lyric Opera, Central City Opera, Lyric Opera
of Kansas City, Opera Carolina, Opera Omaha, San Diego Opera, and Utah
The composer has also gained increasing attention for his non-operatic
works. 1993 saw the New York premiere of Floyd’s orchestral song cycle,
Citizen of Paradise
(1984), given by the leading mezzo-soprano of the Metropolitan Opera,
Suzanne Mentzer. Floyd also completed a large-scale work for chorus,
bass-baritone soloist, and orchestra titled A Time to Dance (1993),
commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association.
Floyd has been the recipient of a number of honors and awards: a
Guggenheim Fellowship (1956); Citation of Merit from the National
Association of American Conductors and Composers (1957); the Ten
Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award from the U.S. Junior Chamber
of Commerce (1959); the distinguished professor of Florida State
University Award (1964); an honorary doctorate from Dickinson College
(1983); and the National Opera Institute’s Award for Service to
American Opera (1983). He served on the Music Panel of the National
Endowment for the Arts from 1974–80 and was the first chairman of the
Opera/Musical Theater Panel. Floyd was inducted into the American
Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001, and in 2004 was awarded the
National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House. In 2008, Floyd
was one of four honorees—and the only composer—to be included in the
inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors. In 2011, he was
inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for
the state’s most-accomplished native sons.
Carlisle Floyd is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.
— August 2012
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.
© 1991 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded on the telephone on May 4,
1991. Segments were used (with recordings)
on WNIB one month later, and again in 1996 and 1999. The
transcription was made and posted on this
website in 2013.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.