Daughter of the South
Composer: Edward Joseph Collins
Librettist: Edward Joseph Collins
Work Web Site: http://EdwardJCollins.org
Premiere Date: Not available.
Description: Synopsis and scene details written by Edward Collins, Jr. son of the composer:

All action takes place on Colonel Edmond Randolph’s Virginia plantation. At the outbreak of the American Civil War in spring 1861, the old soldier is widowed, but eagerly prepares to celebrate his daughter Mary Lou’s engagement to Robert Warren, a northerner. During the festivity, war is declared and Robert, facing detainment, flees to join the Union Army. Four years later, in the second scene, Robert has escaped from a Confederate prison and rushes to Mary Lou, only to be arrested as a Northern spy. Shortly thereafter, an exhausted Colonel Randolph returns home, following General Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Carrying a copy of General Ulysses S. Grant’s Letters of Paroles or amnesty, Colonel Randolph is able to stop Robert’s execution, and all are joyfully reunited.

SCENE I (Outside Colonel Randolph’s plantation house, Spring 1861, outbreak of the Civil War) Two slaves, Jonah and Melda, are doing chores around the house. Jonah says that he overheard “a man on a hoss” in Leesburg, telling the people there may be war between the North and South, and that President Lincoln may free the slaves. Jonah tells Melda that they should go north and work on the President’s plantation. Melda crossly declares that she would never leave Mary Lou, whom Melda has raised from birth, following the death of her mother. With Mary Lou soon to marry Robert, Melda insists she will stay and watch the cycle of life unfold on the plantation. Colonel Randolph and Mary Lou come outside from the house, each in turn lamenting the impending war. Comforting his daughter, Colonel Randolph sings of his happiness for Mary Lou’s engagement to Robert.

Jonah enters to announce the arrival of carriages, neighbors, and slaves, all in the company of Robert. The Colonel warmly greets everyone, asking Jonah to have his people dance. There follows a lively ballet, Allegro barbaro. Colonel Randolph toasts Robert as the “conq’ring hero” who has captured his daughter, “the pride of the South.” Robert in turn salutes to “life, love and youth,” while all declare that there “ain’t goin’ be no war,” as if this incantation alone will prevent the tragedy. A declaration of war falls upon the celebrants, making Robert “an enemy among friends.” Everyone withdraws in lamentation, leaving Mary Lou and Robert alone to sing of their eternal love. Suddenly Jonah rushes in announcing that Confederate soldiers are at the gate looking for Robert. The Northerner flees just as the detachment arrives. There follows an instrumental section that intertwines two popular Civil War era tunes, Dixie and The Girl I Left Behind Me, which evoke the opposing forces at war.

SCENE II (Four years later, Spring 1865, end of the war) The curtain rises to find Mary Lou on the veranda, mourning her four lonely years without Robert, praying that he will return to save her. Jonah, ever the bearer of news, has overheard that General Lee will surrender his army. Melda sings a lullaby to comfort Mary Lou, who falls asleep. Robert staggers in, winded by his recent escape from a nearby Confederate prison. Slumping near the veranda, he sings of how he must see Mary Lou before returning to his command. She awakens and they embrace joyously, only to be set upon by a Confederate detachment, which arrests Robert as a spy for the North.

Mary Lou protests that Robert is not a spy but a Union Army Captain, who has come to assure her of his love. “Tell that to the firing squad. Take him along.” retorts the Sergeant. In horror, Mary Lou runs to the house.

An exhausted Colonel Randolph then enters, with a contingent of soldiers and neighbors, and sings of the devastation of his “cherished land.” He then tells Jonah of General Lee’s surrender to General Grant, who in turn has given a “letter of safe passage” to all combatants. Mary Lou and Melda rush to greet Colonel Randolph, excitedly warning of Robert’s impending execution. The Colonel orders Jonah to rush Grant’s letter to the firing squad and save Robert.

Shortly thereafter, Robert, Jonah and the soldiers enter, along with more plantation neighbors and freed slaves. All rejoice over the blessed end to the war. The sergeant surrenders his Confederate flag to Robert, who in turn unfurls his own Union flag. Mary Lou joins their hands together and, just as she and Robert are finally reunited, “Love triumphant rules the land.”
Character List (Major): COL. EDMOND “EZRA” RANDOLPH of Virginia, plantation owner (b/bar)
MARY LOU RANDOLPH, his daughter (s)
ROBERT WARREN, a young man from the North, engaged to Mary Lou (t)
ESMERELDA (MELDA), Mary Lou’s Mammy, a plantation slave (mz)
JONAH, head slave (b)
Reviews: Composed in 1939, Daughter of the South is Collins’s only opera.

The extant source materials allowed nearly complete recovery of the opera’s full score. Additional extant full score and piano-vocal score fragments, as well as contemporary historical reports, allowed substantial insights into the sixty some missing pages of the second scene. The remaining gap in the dramatic action was bridged with a storyline contributed by the composer’s son, Edward Jr. The storyline took into account the preceding and subsequent action in the extant sections of the score, but also incorporated the extant fragments; the new storyline also integrated an actual Civil War episode from the life of Edward Jr.’s wife Barbara, whose ancestor fought for the Union, was imprisoned in a Southern tobacco warehouse, escaped, and made his way back to the Union lines. Librettist Charles Kondek wove this new storyline together with the existing libretto of the composer. The new libretto was then set by composer Daron Hagen, using music from Collins’s opera and his secular cantata Hymn to the Earth.

The 1 AUG 2010 recording of Daughter of the South is both the first performance and recording of the full score, as restored in 2008.

There were two documented recital performances of extensive excerpts from the opera in Chicago, with the composer at the piano; Collins’s daughter also reported that her father played the work in the early 1940s for the artistic director of NYC’s Met. On the basis of these early performances, the opera won for its composer of the David Bispham Medal Award.

It should be noted that the composer Collins’s original libretto uses the N-word, in a couple passages sung by the slave Melda about the head slave Jonah.
Video Clip:
Length: 00:75
Total Acts: 1
Chorus: SATB
Orchestration: 3 fl, 3 ob, 3 cl, 3 bsn – 4 hrn, 3 tpt, 3 tbn, 1 tba – tmp +4 – harp – str
Ballet/Dance: Extensive dance episodes, but forces not explicitly identified in score; implicitly, dancing both by plantation slaves and by plantation owners and non-slave neighbors
Musical Style: Post-Mahlerian romantic/modern, with nods to American popular music of the 1920s and 30s, including blues and jazz.
Contact: Edward Collins Fund For American Music
E-mail Address: consultant@edwardjcollins.org
Phone: 608.242.8525
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