The Walled Up Wife

Brick Wall Clip Art-BrickWall.jpg
Brick Wall Clip Art-BrickWall.jpg

The Walled Up Wife

  • Concert premiere: 30, 31  March 2007 / South Oxford Space, Brooklyn, NYC / American Opera Projects
  • Instrumentation: (crotales, tam,tb,bodhran, marimba). pf
  • Duration: 50'
  • Libretto: Gilda Lyons


  • Soprano: Worker 1 / Vila / Young Prince (The Promise) / Duke (The Betrayal) / Young Wife
  • Mezzo-Soprano: High Priest / Worker 2 / Duke (The Promise) / Queen
  • Tenor: Worker 3 / King / Duchess / Young Prince (Prayer)


dusk, evening, dawn, midday and dusk, in an ancient city on the banks of a river



Bells ring out from the mountainside where the High Priest, surrounded by his men in prayer, sings of the troubled city below.  He tells of three royal brothers who watch as their treasures waste - as the construction of their glorious citadel fails.  The hour tolls 5:30 and the High Priest begins his descent from the mountain to lead the workers below in evening prayer.

Workers push through the last hour of another day as they attempt to raise the citadel's walls.  Their work song tells of the three years that their labors have failed.  Even now, what they build by day is destroyed by night.  They pray for their Vila - the voice of nature - to grant them rest and peace in strong foundations.  The hour tolls 6 as they finish their evening prayers.


Three royal brothers, King, Duke, and Young Prince, emerge to examine their worksite and to join the services.  The High Priest reveals the word of the Vila:

"There are three royal brothers here, and each one has a faithful wife:

Tomorrow, whosoever comes to bring the men their daily meal,

Immure her in the tower walls!

At once the groundwork will be strong -- at once the citadel can grow."

The brothers swear an oath of secrecy.  Night interrupts them, and they hasten to the white halls of their royal homes.  There, the oldest brothers betray their word and warn their wives not to show themselves at the worksite the following day.  Only the youngest keeps the secret from his bride.  The hour tolls midnight.


Morning breaks and the workers begin a new day.  As the hour tolls 10, it is time to prepare the daily meal.  The Queen and Duchess sing a lie-dance and trick their young sister into swapping chores.  They will bathe her infant son while the Young Wife delivers herself to the worksite.  It is time to depart.  The hour tolls 11:30.


When the Young Wife arrives at the river, she greets her husband.  The Young Prince cries out to his bride but she is seized and bound.  Bricks are stacked at her feet.  The hour tolls noon.   She pleas with her royal brothers while construction continues around her.  As she realizes her fate, her cries become a lullaby for her child:

"Master builder - brother - hear, by God!

A window for my bosom leave.  Draw out for me my two white breasts,

So when my tiny infant comes, he still can suckle from me."

The builder takes pity on the young bride and leaves a space for her breasts within the wall.  She then sings:

"Leave a window for my eyes.  My own white dwelling I would see and,

when my tiny infant comes, I will weep and wash him in my tears."


Bells ring out and the High Priest sings of the fate of the Young Wife.  He tells ofher immurement - of how she nursed her infant son for seven days.  After one week, her voice was gone, but for her child she still gave milk.  As it was then, so it is now. It works great wonders and miraculous cures for every woman who gives praise at the city's glorious citadel.  Today, still, the milk flows.  The final brick binds the Young Wife to her fate.  The hour tolls 6.