WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O.
a chamber opera in one act
Music by Stephen Eddins
Why I Live at the P.O. by Eudora Welty © copyright 1941 by Eudora Welty,
Prologue: The back room of the Post Office of China Grove, Mississippi, early July, 1941. Sister, the narrator, has set up housekeeping there with all the amenities of a cozy home. She begins to tell us the story of why she is living at the P.O. She had been doing fine until her sister Stella-Rondo came home from Illinois, where she’d been briefly married to Mr. Whitaker, a former beau of Sister’s.
Scene One: Sister walks into the story she is telling, back to her family home, back in time, to the Fourth of July. Sister narrates her story, pointing to an incarnation of herself in the kitchen five days earlier, contentedly performing domestic chores for her family. (In one of her manifestations, Sister is the narrator, eager to tell her story in a way that casts herself in the most favorable light; and in another, she is an active participant in the events being described.) Her peace is shattered when Stella-Rondo arrives with a two-year-old child named Shirley-T, whom she insists is adopted. Mama greets them ecstatically, but Sister expresses her doubts that Shirley-T. could be adopted, noting a strong resemblance to both Mr. Whitaker and Papa-Daddy, the family patriarch, if he were to cut off his beard, which of course he’d never do. Stella-Rondo angrily demands that Sister make no future reference to her adopted child, and flounces off to her room.
Scene Two: At the dinner table, Stella-Rondo turns Papa-Daddy against Sister by telling a deliberate, calculated falsehood - that Sister thinks Papa-Daddy should cut off his beard. Papa-Daddy, who is inordinately proud of his beard, is enraged at Sister. He refuses to hear her protestations of innocence, calls her a hussy, and storms out to lie in the hammock. (The opera is completed to this point.)
Scene Three: Uncle Rondo, dressed in one of Stella-Rondo’s kimonos and drunk on his “prescription,” reels into the yard toward the hammock. Papa-Daddy tries to turn Uncle Rondo against Sister, but Uncle Rondo is too woozy to get turned for the time being. Stella-Rondo comments to Sister that Uncle Rondo looks like a fool in the kimono. Sister defends him, they fight, and Sister storms off to make green tomato pickle.
Scene Four: In the kitchen, Sister tells Mama she fears Shirley-T. may be “simple,” because she hasn’t said a single word since she arrived. Mama anxiously calls up to Stella-Rondo’s room and asks if her child can talk. Stella-Rondo indignantly replies by having Shirley-T. sing and tap-dance. Mama embraces the child and demands that Sister apologize for suggesting such an ugly idea. Sister refuses and Mama turns against her.
Scene Five: At supper, Stella-Rondo tells Uncle Rondo, (still wearing the kimono), that Sister thought he looked like a fool, cavorting about in a woman’s trousseau. Uncle-Rondo erupts in fury at Sister, tears off the kimono, and grinds it into the dirt.
Scene Six: Exhausted by her family, Sister collapses on the sofa for a nap. After she has dozed off, Uncle Rondo sneaks into the room and sets off a string of firecrackers under the sofa. Sister is absolutely undone by the noise and the commotion.
Scene Seven: In a moment of clarity, she realizes that her entire family has turned against her and the only way she will find peace is by moving out. She triumphantly announces that she is moving to the P.O. She begins to collect all her belongings, in spite of her family’s loud recriminations and protests. They haggle over every bit of bric-a-brac. With the help of a little girl with a wagon, Sister moves her things to the P.O. as her family looks on in anger and disbelief.
Epilogue: As at the beginning, Sister is ensconced at the Post Office. She and her family haven’t laid eyes on each other for five days. She enumerates all the joys of living alone and vehemently protests that she is happy even as she launches into another tirade against Stella-Ronda for the theft of her beau…
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Prologue, Scenes One & Two
SISTER 1 ............... CORRIE DONOVAN
--William V. Madison, Billvesées
Why Forth Worth Opera’s Frontiers Program Ranks as One of the Most Significant Music Events of the YearThe two public sessions of Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers program last Thursday and Friday at McDavid Studio in downtown Fort Worth easily rank as one of the most significant musical events of the year in these parts... The most distinctive and original item on the agenda came at the close of the Friday afternoon session, in the form of an excerpt from Stephen Eddins’ setting (with libretto by Michael O’Brien) of iconic southern author Eudora Welty’s comical parable of family dysfunctionality, Why I Live at the P.O.Eddins’ strategy here was both derivative and unique, creating an appealing musical tapestry based largely on 1940s big band jazz (matching the era in which the story is set) with heavy overtones of gospel, spiritual, and ragtime.
-- Wayne Lee Gay, D Magazine [Dallas]
A Brave New Frontier
The hit of the entire program was clearly Why I Live at the P.O., which enchanted the audience and was so obviously enjoyed by the singers.
-- Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, TheaterJones
Final Frontier Closes out Fort Worth Frontiers Festival
David Wueste -- Everyday Opera
University of Michigan Concert, October 12, 2009
The University of Michigan Concert Band performed excerpts from Why I Live at the P.O. Rodney Dorsey leads the performance featuring student and faculty singers from the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. The concert also includes music by Schuman, Grantham, Balmages, Reed, and Hummel.