Addition, 1973-2001, to the Carlisle Floyd Papers
| Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Front Page 2007 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2007
Fifty manuscripts, 1973 2001, constitute a significant new addition to the South Caroliniana Library’s holdings pertaining to opera composer and librettist Carlisle Floyd (b. 1926), a native of Latta, South Carolina, and onetime Converse College student. | Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
Of singular import among this unit of correspondence is a run of letters addressed to Floyd by American poet, novelist, and literary critic Robert Penn Warren between 1973 and 1982, the majority of which delineate the artistic conception and evolution of Floyd’s opera "Willie Stark," an adaptation of Warren’s 1946 novel All the King’s Men.
"Even to an unmusical barbarian like me your fame has penetrated," Robert Penn Warren first wrote on 7 July 1973, quickly adding, "I’d be honored to have you do All the King’s Men, as you can well imagine." But the practical details remained to be worked out since, he noted, "My agent has recently arranged a contract with a man who has had some considerable success with ‘musical plays’ to do such a thing with AKM." Warren had sent on Floyd’s letter of intent to his agent at the William Morris Agency and promised that he "should be hearing from him very soon" since "I have told him that I’d love to have you do this."
Despite the threat of complications resulting from the conflict with the proposed musical adaptation of All the King’s Men, Warren continued to encourage Floyd, noting in a letter of 27 August 1973, "if the Broadway thing blows up - as may well be the case - and if you want to pick up the project again, fine!" By 1974 the project was better defined, and Warren’s 26 September 1974 message was again strongly reassuring. "I devoutly trust that all is well with the project of your doing AKM. What a break for it - and me!"
As the project progressed, the resulting friendly relationship between Carlisle Floyd and Robert Penn Warren blossomed. When Warren wrote on 1 November 1977, it was to not only congratulate Floyd upon his progress with the opera’s libretto but also to arrange a social visit. "What great news! Not only about the libretto, and associated matters, but that you can pay us a visit. I'd like nothing better than to see you here, and I’m sure that we could talk better at our house than in some hotel lobby or the Century or something like that," he suggested. He promised to write soon to confirm the visit after checking his wife’s schedule. "By the way," he added, "though I am an ignoramus about music, music is bread and meat to my wife, and she will be looking forward (as I for not such elegant reasons) to your visit."
The correspondence picks up again in 1980 and by that time the project had taken sufficient shape to allow for a discussion of an opening date. On 29 February, Warren wrote to reassure Floyd that, while he had not heard from him in some time, there was "nothing to forgive. I had laid the matter in your hands, and on the knees of God, and turned my back on it till the time came for you to tell me something. Well, the ‘something’ sounds very splendid! You must have been in a fury of activity all these months, and I pray that you will not live to think of time wasted." "As for opening on April 24," he went on to say, "that is my birthday, my seventy-sixth actually in 1981, and I am certainly going to be there…to inspect the birthday present. I have every reason to expect one of great worth - unless I am painfully misinformed about the giver of the gift. So, many thanks ahead of time."
When Robert Penn Warren wrote next in mid-October 1980, he was recuperating from surgery but was holding a "‘floating’ date in November" for the presentation of an award for his book Being Here. "Naturally, I am happy to hear that the little preview of WS seemed promising to you," he stated. "I can well believe that seeing it on its feet must have given you a flood of new notions. Alas, one cannot set a poem on its feet! All you can do is to let it get very cold & then see if it speaks to you. And how often not!" Warren thought it must be "splendid to be rushing around from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Ireland to see new productions of old work," further noting that "In an art that depends to a significant degree on presentation, there must be a constant development & freshening for the author. It must stimulate other & more immediate kinds of growth & development, too."
The world premiere of "Willie Stark" was performed by the Houston Grand Opera on 24 April 1981 with Robert Penn Warren in attendance. The inaugural production was directed by noted American theatrical director and producer Hal Prince, a copy of whose letter of 23 June 1980 offering pre-production criticism of "Willie Stark" is included here.
Among other letters in this unit are laudatory messages from Alan Kays, who sang the role of Jack Burden in "Willie Stark"; stage director Frank Corsaro, who directed the world premieres of two Carlisle Floyd operas, "Of Mice and Men" (1970) and "Flower and Hawk" (1972); American composers Mark Adamo (whose letter of 31 March 1999 toasts the Metropolitan Opera "for at last recognizing the genius in our midst" at the time of the New York premiere of Floyd’s 1955 opera, "Susannah"), Jake Heggie (a fellow student of Ernst Bacon, the Converse College and Syracuse University teacher which whom Carlisle Floyd had first studied), Henry Mollicone, Ned Rorem, and Larry Alan Smith; vocal coach and accompanist George Darden; and Carlisle Floyd’s onetime Florida State University piano student Polly Holliday, who later went on to enjoy celebrity as an award-winning television and stage actor, perhaps best remembered for her role as Flo in the 1976-1985 sitcom "Alice." Of Carlisle Floyd’s distinguished stature in the field of American opera, longtime Seattle Opera conductor Hans Wolf wrote on 30 October 1992: "It takes a magician to pack into 3½ hours a whole world of American history as well as a wealth of dynamic and imaginative music making - where word and music are one homogenous entity - you can be proud to be that man."
Other items document Carlisle Floyd’s selection in 1984 as recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Performing Arts, bestowed by Mayor Kathryn J. Whitmire, of Houston, Texas, and Houston Grand Opera’s second Artist Medal awarded to him in 2001. And an undated memorandum to "Carlisle Floyd from his colleagues" at in the School of Music at Florida State University offers congratulations upon his latest opera, "Of Mice and Men": "Too often, within our pleasant day by day associations with colleagues it becomes easy to view as commonplace that which others envision as exceptional. Subtle, rational and effective participation with our presence sometimes eschews the personal productivity of our peers. Our appreciation may become perfunctory; our hierarchy temporarily confused. We know that music must necessarily stand on its own merit with each new performance taking and giving it life throughout time. Furthermore, we realize that the totality of national and international acclaim will not significantly increase with our small applause. Yet we must state that we are proud. Perhaps as much with ourselves for being fortunate enough for the association, perhaps because from time to time we find a more human, a more artistic expression, or perhaps because we just feel. Regardless, BRAVO, Carlisle, BRAVO, from those of us who know your many talents, and see each new achievement as but another manifestation of a beautiful person."