Vocalist - Tenor
Dangers of mob mentality in 'Susannah' still chill
Operagoers felt a shiver down the spine back in 1997 as the final curtain fell on one of Central City Opera's most chilling productions.

In Michael Ehrman's staging that year, Diane Alexander portrayed the title character in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah. As the tragedy reached its climax, she stood on the front porch of her cabin, shotgun in hand, and let out a maniacal laugh that quickly froze into a steely, murderous gaze. Curtain.

Ehrman has returned with his unforgettable production. When the opening-night curtain fell Saturday at the Opera House, the shivers might have been in short supply, but the impact of Ehrman's direction and of Floyd's remarkable creation remains undiminished.

This updating of the biblical tale of Susannah and the Elders offers a scathing glimpse of old-time religion in rural America, as it examines the chain of tragic consequences triggered by a judgmental community more interested in finger-pointing than truth.

From the opening freeze, shining a spotlight on our doomed heroine, to that final ominous, gun-toting moment, Ehrman brings us deep inside the insular world of this small Tennessee community.

He fleshes out the inherent goodness of the principal characters, without deifying them. These are decent but flawed folk. Susannah is overly prideful, her brother Sam drinks too much, Rev. Blitch can't control his libido. The only evil here is the unstoppable mob mentality.

David Harwell's stage design captures the mood of each scene in understated fashion. David Martin Jacques' sensitive lighting contributes mightily to the dramatics.

Each of the principals performed wonderfully. The dependable and powerfully voiced Emily Pulley is an engaging presence in the title role, capturing Susannah's free fall from innocence to depression to murderous madness. Her bittersweet aria, The Trees on the Mountains, has rarely sounded so heartbreaking.

The three men in Susannah's life were sung by tenor Vale Rideout, superb vocally and sweetly sympathetic as her loving brother Sam; by veteran Central City baritone Grant Youngblood, whose Blitch was big and blustery with an equally big voice that occasionally turned unfocused; and by tenor Brian Downen, who brought likability and controlled nervousness to the simpleton Little Bat. Christopher Zemliauskas' chorus nicely captured the religious fervor of the townsfolk.

In the pit, Hal France led a solid orchestra that provided ideal support for the onstage drama.
Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News
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