Opera Warhorses

Michael Cavanagh and Erhard Rom 

Gockley, one can safely surmise, was determined to create a production that not only would be a credit to the San Francisco Opera and to Carlisle Floyd and “Susannah”, but would also help transform such skeptics as might remain as to whether such an “American Opera” belongs in a world-class opera house.

A decision on par with his excellent casting choices, was his commission for the team – Canadian director Michael Cavanagh and Wasington state set designer Erhard Rom – that created the transformative production of Adams’ “Nixon in China” recently seen at the San Francisco Opera [see 25 Years Old, “Nixon in China” Arrives at San Francisco Opera – June 8, 2012] to create the “Susannah” production.

The beautiful projections that Cavanagh and Rom envisioned and Rom created were awe-inspiring. Cavanagh’s stage direction mixed an occasional scene before the curtain, with the actions on a unit that was built around a wooden floor.  That floor served for scenes of the square dance, for the front yard of the Polks’ home and for the church.

Then the production team brilliantly added flowing projections to evoke Susannah swimming nude in the “baptismal crick” and ethereal projections to express “the pretty night” of Susannah’s ballad.

The end result was not only the best production of “Susannah” ever mounted, but another milestone in the use of projections for producing opera.