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US-Chinese co-commissioned opera to receive premiere in 2010

23 November 2009, Boston, USA

Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs
Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs

Madame White Snake, a new opera by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long, will receive its world premiere at Opera Boston in February 2010, followed by two performances at the Beijing Festival in October 2010.

This project will mark several important ‘firsts’ as far as Opera Boston and US-Chinese cultural relations are concerned. As well as Opera Boston’s first ever new commission, international collaboration and overseas tour, it will be the first visit by an American opera company to China for more than 20 years.

Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs is also keen to point out that while the legend of the White Snake is known almost universally in China, exists in dozens of oral, written and traditional Chinese opera versions created over the past few centuries, and forms a cornerstone of Chinese cultural consciousness, it is barely known in the West. The opera is therefore also an attempt to bring this powerful mythological narrative before new audiences internationally.

‘The White Snake is a symbol of an outsider’, explains Jacobs ‘and not just any outsider but a powerful woman outsider who has triumphed because of her amazing physical and psychic transformation- a transformation wrought by love.’

Jacobs’ libretto also explores contemporary resonances within the story, which she feels have particular importance in an age of globalization, when so many people have been displaced or migrated to new countries: ‘Many expatriates today – myself included – are trying to make a new identity for themselves in a new home. In doing so, we often try to adapt the culture of our homeland, to manage our new identity it so that it contains the familiar. The same is true of Madame White Snake: the opera is based on an ancient Chinese legend, but this production will be a totally new, American re-imagining of the story.’

The tour to Beijing and other future productions of Madame White Snake internationally will be handled through a non-profit US-based organization called The Friends of Madame White Snake, established initially by Jacobs and her closest friends as a vehicle for raising funds. Jacobs has therefore been intimately involved in the entire production process from beginning to end, and has experienced first-hand the challenges posed by the project’s collaborative dimension.

‘Our connection with the Beijing Festival came about because of the reputation of Zhou Long, and because they wanted to be involved in the commissioning process for a story so that is so important to the Chinese people,'  Jacobs explains. 'Along the way we have had to reconcile different expectations because the Festival had their own concept of what they would like us to bring to China, while we had our own idea. Then of course there was the recession. After it hit Asia, lots of sources of funding dried up, which was a big problem, though I am pleased to say that we are now in discussion with a major potential supporter in China and are hoping to tour the production to several other Chinese cities after Beijing.’

The world premiere of Madame White Snake will take place at the Cultler Majestic Theatre in Boston on 26 February 2010, featuring soprano Ying Huang in the title role, Peter Tantsits as her lover, Xi Xuan, and male soprano, Michael Maniaci, as Madame White Snake’s servant, Xiao Qing. The production will be directed by Robert Woodruff and conducted by Opera Boston Music Director, Gil Rose.

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