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Susa, Conrad (b. 1935)  

American composer Conrad Susa is best known for his operas and choral music, some of which is informed by his experience as a gay man.

Conrad Stephen Susa was born in the town of Springdale, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, on April 26, 1935. His family was Slovak, and there was a great deal of amateur music making at home, especially choral music. He studied music at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and at Juilliard, where his teachers included William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti.

From the beginning of his career, Susa has been involved with dramatic music, as indicated by his work as composer-in-residence for the Old Globe Theater in San Diego (1959-1994), music director of the APA-Phoenix Repertory Company in New York (1961-1968), and music director of the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut (1969-1971). He has also been dramaturge for the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut (1986 to ca 1990).

Susa has won various prizes, including a George Gershwin Memorial Scholarship, two Ford Foundation Fellowships, a Gretchaninoff Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

In 1972 he moved from New York to San Francisco; he joined the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory in 1988, where he became Chair in 2000.

Susa's compositions are mainly tonal, and reflect a love of Baroque counterpoint and a joy in the polyphony of voices. In addition to many film and television scores and instrumental works, Susa has written a number of vocal works, both stage and choral.

Susa is the first composer ever commissioned by a gay men's chorus. The New York Gay Men's Chorus (together with Susa's publisher G. Schirmer) commissioned Chanticleer's Carol (1982), an antiphonal work whose cries of "Awake!" are accompanied by brass, including an offstage trumpet.

He has since had numerous commissions by the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) and its members, including the San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, and San Diego choruses.

Susa's first opera, Transformations (1973), was among the most famous commissions by the theatrically innovative Minnesota Opera, and has become one of the most widely performed American operas.

Its staging of Anne Sexton's radical reinterpretations of fairy tales expands the gender roles of the originals, including cross-gender casting (approved by Sexton) and a lesbian seduction. The composer's libretto works in a story of Sexton's creative and personal growth as a subplot, and the musical numbers parody a range of popular music styles.

Two of Susa's operas, Black River (1975, revised 1981) and The Love of Don Perlimplin (1984), were written to libretti by the composer's then partner Richard Street; the latter is based on a text by Federico García Lorca.

Two later operas, The Wise Woman (1994) and The Dangerous Liaisons (1994, revised 1996-1997, after the Laclos novel), use libretti by gay songwriter Philip Littell; the former was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists, the latter by the San Francisco Opera.

Dirge from Cymbeline (1991) for men's chorus with offstage trumpet was written in memory of Susa's lover Nikos, who died of AIDS.

Susa has written other pieces occasioned by gay deaths. The first song of The Cricket Sings (1985), a GALA commission for the Seattle Men's Chorus, is a memorial for a young man who died of cancer.

Paul Attinello


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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Choruses and Bands

Since they were first established in the 1970s, lesbian and gay musical organizations have grown remarkably in number, size, and sophistication.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Classical

Classical music is an important component of Western culture to which glbt people have contributed significantly.

arts >> Overview:  Opera

Opera, an eclectic synthesis of voice, drama, music, costume, visual arts and spectacle, has played an integral role in queer culture since its development in seventeenth century Venice.

literature >> García Lorca, Federico

The works of García Lorca, internationally recognized as Spain's most prominent lyric poet and dramatist of the twentieth century, are filled with thinly veiled homosexual motifs and themes.


Adams, Byron. "Susa, Conrad." Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. George E. Haggerty, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 851.

_____. "Susa, Conrad." Revised New Grove. Stanley Sadie, ed. London: Macmillan, 2000. 729-730.

Jackson, Gilbert. The Choral Music of Conrad Susa. Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 1984.


    Citation Information
    Author: Attinello, Paul  
    Entry Title: Susa, Conrad  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 16, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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