Setting: New Hope Valley, Tennessee
At a square dance hosted by her church, the beautiful Susannah is the object of gossip: the congregation’s pious womenfolk take exception to the attention that she attracts, observing that it is what they would expect of someone raised by her alcoholic brother. The newly arrived Reverend Olin Blitch ignores the gossip and asks Susannah to dance. Later that night, Susannah tells Little Bat McLean, a troubled young boy who follows her everywhere, about the dance, but he leaves quickly when Susannah’s brother, Sam, comes home from hunting.
The next morning, the church elders discover Susannah innocently bathing nude in the creek they plan to use for baptisms. They denounce her and trumpet her sin to the community. When Susannah arrives at a church dinner that night, she is ostracized and returns home in confusion. Little Bat explains that the elders are angry with her for bathing in the nude and confesses that they forced him to say that she seduced him. Sam, who has overheard their conversation, tries in vain to comfort her.
Sam, meeting with Susannah again, says she must attend a prayer meeting to satisfy the elders’ demands.
Susannah goes to the church where Olin Blitch is preaching, even though she is innocent. Swept up in the fervent preaching and chanting, Susannah nearly “confesses,” but runs away at the last moment. After the sermon, Olin Blitch comes to her house and offers to pray for her. Discovering that Sam is away, Blitch wears down Susannah’s resistance and takes her into the house.
The next day, Blitch tries to seek forgiveness from Susannah when he realizes she was a virgin. Susannah refuses, and tells Sam what happened. He takes his shotgun and shoots Blitch at a baptismal ceremony. The church community, believing that Susannah has driven her brother to murder, converges on her house, but she repulses them with a shotgun. As they retreat, she is left alone.
-Courtesy of Arizona Opera