Perera: The Yellow Wallpaper. (Manhattan School of Music, New York, New York) - (Opera Reviews)

By Weales, Gerald | Commonweal, February 12, 1993 | Go to article overview

Perera: The Yellow Wallpaper. (Manhattan School of Music, New York, New York) - (Opera Reviews)


Weales, Gerald, Commonweal


At a seminar before the first of three performances of The Yellow Wallpaper given last December at the Manhattan School of Music, Ronald Perera (music) and Constance Congdon (libretto) explained the strategies they used in making an opera of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman story, which has become a staple of American literature anthologies and courses since the growing interest in women writers has altered the canon in so many colleges. At one point, Congdon said that working on the piece had been fascinating and advised "any playwrights in the audience" to consider writing a libretto themselves. One playwright who was not in the audience had already done that. The night after I saw The Yellow Wallpaper, I saw Orpheus in Love at the Circle Rep; Craig Lucas had done the libretto to Gerald Busby's music.

The narrator/protagonist of Gilman's turn-of-the-century story is a woman suffering from what she calls a "temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency" and a comic character in the opera called "Neur--as--then--i--a." Her doctor-husband has put her on a regimen devised by the celebrated nerve specialist S. Weir Mitchell (as was Gilman until, unlike her heroine, she escaped). Mitchell is mentioned in the story and appears as a lecturer on the edge of the action in the opera. The protagonist is to rest, exercise, eat heartily, take tonics, but she is to avoid any kind of excitement, which means no work, minimal conversation, no writing (the story is what she has written in her secret notebook). At first appalled by the ugly wallpaper, she becomes obsessed with it, tries to follow the pattern, and comes to see that the pattern behind the pattern is a woman (or a group of women) trapped by the exterior design. At the end, she has ripped the wallpaper from the walls to free the woman--to escape because she sees herself as the woman-- and is creeping around and around the edges of the room, having been driven mad by her husband's loving but oppressive cure.

To get the precise feel of the Gilman story, a dramatic piece would have to be a solo performance, like Sorry, Wrong Number or The Human Voice; there has apparently been such a musical piece although I have not seen it. Congdon, however, working with Perera and director Mark Harrison, chose to go outside the room, to create a world beyond the character's isolation, if only to heighten it. Pulling away from the festivities of a Fourth of July picnic, Charlotte (Congdon has given Gilman's name to the unnamed protagonist of the story) sings, "I'm in a room wherever I am./I'm in a room wherever I go." She feels much closer to the women in the wallpaper (the women's chorus), particularly to her other self who often moves in sync with her. The characters---even her husband John and his sister Jennie-- are largely stereotypes, but they are used either to dramatize her situation (the restraints John and Jennie put on her) or--in the case of the nursemaid, the handymen, the realtor and his daughters--to contrast the presumably ordinary world with her distressed one. Many of the apparently casual lines that these characters speak have deeper resonance, at least in retrospect. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Perera: The Yellow Wallpaper. (Manhattan School of Music, New York, New York) - (Opera Reviews)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.