The Prelude encompasses creation myths from cultures all over the world, ranging from China to Australia to Mexico . . . It expresses some of the key roles the Snake has played in human civilization, history, myth and psyche – feared and revered, loathed and sanctified, a thing reviled and a thing of beauty, all coexisting in one image.
The Sata snake, long revered in Egyptian mythology as the symbol of renewal, laments the death of the old gods. Asteroid Apophis, named after the Egyptian snake who brings nightfall by swallowing the sun, plummets towards the earth. Its gravitational pull raises the waters, drowning the world. The Master cuts open Apophis’ stomach; the sun is reborn. The waters recede and the world rejoices.
SCENE 1 IN THE PEONY GARDEN
The White Snake and Green Snake watch a Monk and his Wife say a poignant goodbye. The Monk was touched by Buddha at birth to follow the Way; but he strayed from his god-given path when he fell in love and married his Wife. Now, he must continue his journey, long postponed. The White Snake is mesmerized by the lovers’ emotions. She realizes that despite her long life, she has never experienced such intensity of feelings. She vows to follow the Monk to learn about love.
SCENE 2: TIME PASSING
The Monk faces three trials (like those of Christ in the desert and Buddha in the forest) as Mara, the Demon King, tries to stop his journey. He resists the fear aroused by Mara’s frightful image and rejects the allure of Mara’s three beautiful daughters. But he is undone by the third test when Mara shows him his wife lying in a pool of blood after giving birth to their child. He turns around. When starts to go back, the White Snake stops him and forces him forward. Half dead from privation and exposure, the Monk manages to follow the snakes to Master’s house where he finds shelter.
SCENE 1 THE APOTHECARY SHOP OF THE MASTER
The two snakes watch the Monk as he learns the art of healing from Master, one of the foremost practitioners in the field. Master pensively reflects on how he was once like his young apprentice, full of zeal to save the world. He is at the end of his life now, the zeal replaced with bitterness at the world’s ingratitude and regret that he may never achieve his life’s goal.
Master catches sight of the snakes. He throws a basket at them and captures the White Snake. As she begs him to release her, he realizes that she is the answer to his prayers - anyone who eats of her magical white flesh will be saved. His rejoicing is interrupted by the desperate cries of a patient's mother. He leaves hastily to attend to his sick patient.
The Monk comes back and sees the White Snake. She begs him to release her. She fills him with wonder. He believes she is extra terrestrial, sent to bring beauty into our world. The White Snake and the Monk realize that they have a connection reaching back far into time, but their communion is cut short by Master's arrival. When the Monk begs Master to release the snake, he angrily denounces her as an demon seductress. He orders the Monk to hold the White Snake down so he can sacrifice her. They struggle and Master is stabbed. As he lies bleeding, the White Snake and Green Snake escape.
NAGA is co-commissioned by Friends of Madame White Snake and Boston Lyric Opera