Wingate University in Union County hosts two American opera celebrities this week: composer Carlisle Floyd and tenor Anthony Dean Griffey.
Griffey graduated from Wingate in 1990 and returns at least once a year to connect with the growing body of music students – now twice as big as when he attended. This year, the singer wanted to honor Floyd by bringing him for a week-long residency ending in a performance of scenes from Floyd’s operas.
At 7:30 p.m. Friday in Wingate’s McGee Theatre, Griffey, music faculty and students will perform works from Floyd’s well-known “Susannah,” “Of Mice and Men,” and two lesser-known works, “The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair” and “Wuthering Heights.”
Griffey successfully auditioned at the Metropolitan Opera with an aria from Floyd’s “Susannah” and has since won four Grammy Awards and has become known for his interpretation of Lennie in Floyd’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
Floyd, who’s from Latta, S.C., and Griffey will conduct rehearsals and lessons with Wingate music students throughout the week. As he listens to students perform his work, Floyd keeps his conception in mind, but is open to their interpretation.
“I certainly try to remain faithful to my original vision,” Floyd said, “but I’m also excited when I see that vision extended. I often see my conception amplified.”
Floyd witnessed such an extension when he saw Griffey play Lennie at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1997.
“He gave it his own personal dimensions,” Floyd said, “which was quite beyond how I’d seen it played before and how I’d imagined it. It was a pleasure. I love to see performers give extra dimensions.”
Griffey was drawn to Floyd’s music by his understanding of singers and North Carolina’s rural people. Griffey grew up in High Point, so he can identify with the North Carolinians written in “Susannah” and “The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair.”
“I’ve always been attracted to operas that require you to act well,” Griffey said. “Carlisle understands actors and singers.”