|||The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper

A Chamber Opera in Two Acts
The Yellow Wallpaper is based on a Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story that was first published in New England Magazine in 1892. Set in a New England summer house in 1899, it describes the fate of Charlotte, a young wife and mother suffering from postpartum depression whose treatment — strict bed rest and a total absence of mental stimulation — leads to her emotional and intellectual decline. A contemporary tonal score with folk inflections.

Opera Cast:

Nell, a young girl, Realtor’s daughter (Soprano)
Emily, a young girl, Realtor’s daughter (Soprano)
Ed, an older workman (Bass)
Len, a younger workman (Tenor)
Realtor, a widower, father of Nell and Emily (Tenor)
John, a doctor, married to Charlotte (Baritone)
Jennie, John’s sister (soprano)
Charlotte, married to John, has “neurasthenia” (Soprano)
Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, historical figure (Male voice*)
Woman in the Wall (Soprano**)
Mary, Ed’s wife, the baby’s nurse (contralto)
Women’s chorus (SSA, at least 6-9 singers)
Drunken clarinettist (male)

* This role involves almost exclusively a heightened speech (“Sprechstimme”) for which only rhythms and relative pitch are notated.

Instrumentation: Flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), oboe, clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet, harp, piano (doubling celesta or, optionally, synthesizer), percussion (one player), string quintet (or small string orchestra)

Special: Onstage “drunken” clarinettist role may be played by the orchestra clarinet.

Based on the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Libretto by: Constance Congdon
Original Conception/
Artistic Collaboration:
Mark Harrison
Composed: 1989
Duration: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Publisher: Music Associates of New York, distributed by Jerona Music


“Perera’s music is well-made, tuneful, gratifying to voices and resourcefully orchestrated for 14 players. The opera is ingeniously organized, from the point of view of color, variety, thematic interrelationship and development.”
Boston Globe 5/19/89

“Perera’s music captures the odd drama of the story, and makes some very beautiful sounds along the way. The “chamber” orchestra is rather large, particularly in the percussion, but the scoring is of a rare transparency. Perera also writes vocal lines flattering to singers, and he knows how to compose ensembles of all sizes — a new musical voice worth hearing again.”
New York Daily News 12/11/92

“Mr. Perera… provided a pretty, eclectic score, full of melodies and skillfully orchestrated.”
New York Times

“The music is pleasing, often with a melodic line for each line of conversation – which gives a modern effect — rather than a melody sustained for an aria.”

Associated Press 12/10/92

“The libretto (by Constance Congdon) is an ingenious opening out of the highly interior novella, and it’s musically and visually opulent.”

Village Voice 12/22/92

“The New York premiere of Ronald Perera’s The Yellow Wallpaper was presented . . . in a noteworthy production . . . . MSM’s production made a persuasive case for the opera . . . . The principal singers [were] uniformly commendable.”

Opera News



Score Sample:

View Score

Audio Excerpt:

Excerpt is from Act I, scene I. Singers include Jane Bryden, David Ripley, and Karen Smith Emerson. Orchestra conducted by Dennis Burkh.