The Yellow Wallpaper
Composer: Dan Welcher
Librettist: Dan Welcher
Work Web Site: http://www.ywptheopera.com/
Premiere Date: Not available.
Description: "The Yellow Wallpaper is my operatic version of a short story first published in the New England Magazine in 1891. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author, said in an interview years later that she had written from personal experience: her husband was concerned about her nervousness (she had several breakdowns over a period of several years) and determined, with a doctor-friend, on a course of action. Charlotte was to be kept away from writing, which was her passion, 'for the rest of her life' in order to 'cure' her of her nervous excitement. She was kept in a domestic situation 'with no more than two hours intellectual life a day'. The result, she said, was that she 'came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over it'. She wrote the story as personal catharsis, and the result (once it was published) was that women and their physicians began to see the harm in these forced 'rest cures'.

The story she published, which is not exactly autobiographical, is told in a series of first person diary entries, spanning three months. It thus becomes the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure to remedy her 'nervous condition' - which might actually have been simple postpartum depression. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. Locked in her bedroom, the heroine creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper - a pattern that has come to symbolize her imprisonment.

I found in this story, and particularly in the method in which it is told, a perfect vehicle for a dramatic mezzo-soprano. I have written the libretto myself, using Gilman's words wherever I could, but also organizing the unbroken drama into seven linked scenes. Each scene is 'slated' by a diary entry date, to show the progression of time, and each has its own flavor and mood. Like Schoenberg's monodrama Erwartung ("Waiting"), it allows the observer to watch a single character's self-analysis unfold. There is a single set: a bare three walled bedroom (on which the wallpaper and other objects and visions can be projected) with a heavy iron bed (nailed to the floor) and a writing desk and chair. As the protagonist becomes more and more aware of the 'woman behind the wallpaper', we will see and then hear this Hidden Woman, a mirror for the imprisoned soul of the protagonist, whom I call The Woman. By concentrating solely on her (she has no name in the story, but is referred to in quotations from her husband as 'my dear', 'my darling', 'little girl', and 'silly goose'), I have tried to preserve Perkins' white-hot focus. We hear this story only from The Woman (this is, after all, her diary) and we see things as she sees them. Interpreting just what all of this really means will be up to the beholder.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman said this about her famous story: 'It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.' The story has had a long life as a result. I believe my chamber opera The Yellow Wallpaper will be that rare thing in opera: a story that really cries out to be sung as well as read."

-Dan Welcher
Character List (Major): The Woman (mz or dramatic s)
The Hidden Woman (off-stage soprano)
Video Clip:
Length: 01:20
Total Acts: 1
Orchestration: Flute/piccolo, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion (1), piano-synthesizer, harp, strings (minimum 1-1-1-1-1; pref. 4-4-3-2-1)
Contact: Theodore Presser
E-mail Address: jilika@presser.com
Composer Web Site: http://www.danwelcher.com
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