CERISE LIM JACOBS
Madame White Snake, the 2011 Pulitzer prize winning opera, is the story of a white snake demon who longs to become human to experience love.
Prologue: The Story
Xiao Qing walks through a flood devastated land reflecting on all that has come to pass. She is half snake half woman, companion to her beloved Madame White Snake. Many eons ago, she was a man and her mistress was a woman. Xiao Qing loved Madame White with an unrequited love. When he tried to take her by force, he was defeated and forced into exile. When they died, both were reincarnated into snakes as punishment for their evil ways. But the gods took pity on Xiao Qing and made him a female snake so he could forever be with his love.
ACT 1 Spring: Awakening
SCENE 1 AT THE BROKEN BRIDGE
The White Snake awakens to find she is a woman. She savors the feel of blood rushing through her; she touches her face, her hair, her body in wonder. Xiao Qing alerts her to a man passing by. Their eyes meet and they recognize each other from a prior life. (In fact, they had met in Naga.) Madame White asks Xiao Qing to bring the man to her. Xiao Qing conjures up spring rain. The man chivalrously offers Madame White shelter under his umbrella and leaves it with her. She asks him to come to her house to retrieve it.
ACT 2 Summer: Passion
SCENE 1 AT MADAME WHITE’S HOUSE
Madame White waits impatiently for the stranger to arrive. She asks Xiao Qing to be her matchmaker. Xiao Qing refuses but Madame White angrily orders her to fetch the man. When he arrives, he introduces himself as Xu Xian, a herbalist. Xiao Qing explains that Madame White is ill and needs his services. He takes her pulse and listens to her heart speaking of love. Madame White serves him her special tea of four seasons and he confesses his passion for her. When he asks her to marry him, she makes him promise that he will allow her to leave one night a month with Xiao Qing without questions or objections. She will not tell him where she goes. (In fact, they go to the river to shed their skin.) Xu reluctantly agrees to this condition.
SCENE 2 A LOVE SCENE
Xiao Qing watches the lovers make love. It is bittersweet for her as she has always wanted this love for herself.
ACT 3 Fall: Decay
SCENE 1 AT MADAME WHITE’S HOUSE
News of the couple’s love has spread far and wide. The Abbot of the Golden Mountain Monastery who has spent his life promoting the healing power of love comes to see them. He has meditated for a thousand years and believes he is one step from Nirvana. When he encounters Madame White, he sees through her human form to the snake she is. Madame White panics, knowing she has been discovered. The Abbot waits for Xu Xian to come home. He asks him if he knows who his wife truly this. This question stirs up Xu's pent up suspicion. He confronts his wife who is afraid to tell him the truth about herself. She tries to deflect his questions by telling him that she is pregnant. Believing the child is from her monthly trysts with a lover, a heartbroken Xu flees from her.
ACT 4 Winter: Betrayal
SCENE 1 AT THE GOLDEN MOUNTAIN MONASTERY
Xu Xian journeys to the Monastery in search of the Abbot whom he believes possesses the truth about his wife. The Abbot is reluctant to help him until he learns that the couple is expecting a child. Fearful of a child beget by a demon and a mortal, the Abbot gives Xu a potion, advising him to use it cautiously.
SCENE 2 AT THE BROKEN BRIDGE
Madame White is desperate; her husband has been gone for days. She dons her red wedding robe and goes to the Broken Bridge where she and Xu first met. She resolves to tell him the truth. Before she can do so, Xu arrives at the Bridge. He tells her that he had been worried about her and the child and had made a potion to help the birth. Madame White knows he has lied. She believes that his love for her is dead. She takes the potion from him and drinks it. She is transformed back into a snake.
Madame White and the Abbot fight over Xu Xian. She raises the waters to drown the Abbot. The world is engulfed by floods; millions die.
MADAME WHITE SNAKE is co-commissioned by Opera Boston and the Beijing Music Festival Foundation