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Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd

Actors know about "falling up": a split-second ignition from the wings, propelling entrance as a new character, an unwilled ascent to a different mode of being, an in-body experience that overlays preparation, opportunity, choice, or chance. This authorized biography is the first and only full-length study of its subject, and a metaphor for humanity's uncanny ability to rise from seeming disaster into rebirth. Floyd's consistent succession of soars, stumbles, slides, or wrenches sings of triumph over odds. A modern Renaissance man, Floyd is our greatest living American opera composer and librettist, a trained concert pianist, a master stage director, and a teacher. In "Falling Up," Thomas Holliday offers an intimate account of the life that shaped the words and music. Combining insights from hundreds of interviews with Floyd, his family, and many of the last century's greatest singers, conductors, and opera administrators, "Falling Up" traces Floyd's Southern roots and the struggles and sacrifices that accompanied his rise to operatic stardom. With more than forty photographs, the detailed evolution of Floyd's fourteen operas, and in-depth analysis of his nonoperatic works, "Falling Up" is essential reading for opera fans and professionals alike, a book that moves, informs, and entertains.



Falling Up reviews

"Thomas Holliday's book is described as an 'authorised biography'. Authorised or not, from any viewpoint this is a heroic story of a truly remarkable individual, told in meticulous detail by an author whose sympathy and understanding derive from his own experience of his subject's field…As one reads Holliday's book…Floyd's determination and energy—and the breadth of his achievement—stand out…Floyd's operatic themes run through the wider spectrum of humanity, in accessible musical language, and we are shown how his operas have not only legs, but now wings, showing up in all parts of the globe. A thoroughly enjoyable and informative book…stamped with resounding authority and undoubted affection."


--Bret Johnson, Tempo, Vol. 68/27, January 2014



"Thomas Holliday—himself a conductor and composer—leads the charge in bringing Floyd's story to light in this first full-length and fully authorized biography. Holliday benefits from Floyd's exceptional 'generosity, patience, kindness, and good humor,'…with unfettered access to myriad family documents and nine years of interviews with the composer, his family, and friends. Holliday weaves together a painstakingly detailed and heavily footnoted narrative of Floyd's life, complete with a generous array of family photographs. An appendix complements the monograph with a genealogy of Carlisle Floyd…An absolute must-read for fans of American music and twentieth-century opera, Falling Up offers a musically uncomplicated text that delivers a singular examination of one of America's most important composers."


--Gary Galván, Music Reference Services Quarterly, Vol. 17/1, March 2014



"Syracuse University Press lavishes the space and royal treatment that only a university press with its built-in distribution system and realistic pricing system can give these days to an under-the-radar-scope composer like Carlisle Floyd and his 14 major operas on themes and stories well known to American families—whose whole career and life, by the way, give the lie to the myth that America doesn't support the arts, and music in particular.  With a wonderful essay in the deep and massive Appendix on "The Mysteries of South Carolina"—nearly 100 pages of notes in all—this is a treasure of endlessly fascinating information about a composer and music that still is widely performed today.  It even has big print and generous kerning [i.e. adjusted spacing between font characters] for older readers.  Falling up is described as "a split-second ignition from the wings, propelling entrance as a new character, an unwilled ascent to a different mode of being, an in-body experience that overlays preparation, opportunity, choice, or chance."  Taking such a poetry-based approach gives Floyd a romantic aura that fits well with the composer's own literary tastes. Writer Thomas Holliday lives in that creative stew of academia and the serious stage. Even if you don't know the music, it's like a steamy Southern novel people[d] by friends, family and many of the last half-century's greatest singers, conductors, and opera administrators.  I am not convinced that America is ready for opera that actually reaches out and touches people's lives, but Carlisle Floyd's story, as told in this book, would certainly make a great biopic for Kevin Stacey [sic].  Floyd is currently working on a commission from Houston Opera, about the 17th-century actor Edward Kynaston."


Laurence Vittes, Huffpost Arts & Culture, May 4, 2013



"A fastidiously researched and ringingly written biography of the composer."

Jeff Kaliss, San Francisco Classical Voice, August 27, 2014



"Zealously researched, frank, and eminently readable, Holliday's book succeeds both as the chronicle of a great artist's life and as a revelatory exploration of the inner workings of a grand art form."

Jesse Gram, audience education manager, Lyric Opera of Chicago



"I have been consistently stunned by our great composer Carlisle Floyd's comprehension and control of musical, dramatic, transactional and psychological elements in his musical theater; and Thomas Holliday's rendition of these gifts is priceless."

Marni Nixon, award-winning singer and actress



"Tom Holliday's biography of Carlisle Floyd documents the distinguished career of one of our most beloved artists and teachers, with vivid descriptions of creative ideas transformed into the operas we know and love. Introducing a large cast of real characters central to the development of an American opera repertoire, Holliday captures the composer's poetic insight into the medium's essence."

Marc Scorca, President and CEO, Opera America



"Tom Holliday's astonishingly comprehensive biography of one of America's preeminent composers makes great reading, because it marries the private and the professional, the trials and the triumphs of a long and fascinating career."

Hal Prince, Tony Award-winning producer and director