Cerise Lim Jacobs, Creator & Librettist
“Madame White Snake.” That name evokes a wellspring of childhood memories. I think of sucking on ice kachangs in the sweltering night as the white snake glides across the makeshift opera stage to the accompaniment of cacophonous cars and trucks; of sitting cross legged on the floor glued to the grainy TV screen as she sings her love out to her mesmerized audience. The immortal snake’s quest for human love represented for us all - grandmother, great aunt, mother, nanny and children - the yearning for the ineffable, the courage to follow your heart. We sat for many Saturdays, millions, (perhaps billions), of us, to have our hearts broken again and again by love’s death.
The Legend of the White Snake is so important to the Chinese people that China has designated it an item of “intangible cultural heritage” along with Peking Opera and the Spring Festival. It originated with the Ur people over one thousand years ago as a folk tale to explain the yearly flooding by the Yellow River and has evolved through the centuries, reaching its apex during the Ming Dynasty. Countless Chinese operas, Chinese TV series and Chinese movies have been created from this legend. Yet while our collective Chinese consciousness is imbued with this centuries old myth, it is unknown in the west.
For those of you who are not familiar with this legend, Madame White Snake is a transformation myth, the story of a white snake demon who yearns to be human to experience love. After one thousand years of meditation, the gods grant her wish. While she is transformed physically into a beautiful woman, her essence remains unchanged – she is still a snake and a demon to boot (although many maintain she becomes truly transformed by love.) She falls in love with a herbalist, marries him and becomes pregnant, thus violating all traditional taboos – racial, ethnic, cultural and religious. An Abbot sees right through her human form to the snake and, not surprisingly, disaster strikes. Her husband betrays her, and in the moment of betrayal she is transformed back into a snake.
Passion, Love, Fear, Deceit, Betrayal and Death! What wonderful material for opera! What a powerful opera to introduce to a western audience.
It takes passion to want to create opera. If you are not a performing arts company, it also takes a crazy belief that it is possible for an individual to transform that passion into reality. Charles (my husband and artistic partner), believed with me that from this ancient myth, we could create a truly unique new opera, one which would resonate with all peoples and break their hearts. Thus we have embarked on this adventure to capture poetically in English the power of the legend of the white snake and combine it with the vigor of both Chinese and Western musical elements.
Cerise Lim Jacobs was born in colonial Singapore into a traditional Chinese family. She grew up at the confluence of many disparate influences stemming from Singapore’s multicultural environment. When she was sixteen, her family emigrated to Australia to escape the turbulence created by the end of the Vietnam war and the bankruptcy of the British Empire. She dropped out of school at the age of nineteen to follow her heart and began a sojourn that took her from Melbourne, Australia, to Oxford, England, East Lansing, Michigan, Vancouver, Canada, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until she finally settled in Boston, Massachusetts.
Cerise is a lifelong student of living creatively and imaginatively as a means of achieving success across many disciplines. In her meanderings, she has pursued an eclectic array of interests ranging from ancient Chinese porcelains at the Ashmoleum Museum to modern British theater. She graduated, summa cum laude, in English with a specialty in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. She was a trial partner at Goodwin Procter LLP, one of the largest law firms in New England, where she specialized in criminal defense and patent litigation. She also served for five years as a federal prosecutor at the US Attorney’s Office in Boston as part of her commitment to public service. Cerise garnered much of her theater skills in the hurly burly of the courtroom where she learnt to capture the hearts and minds of her juries.
Cerise is now retired. Since she resigned her law partnership, she has returned to her major passions in life – food, art and music.