The Opera



Xiao Qing, a green grass snake and the servant of Madame White Snake, stands in the midst of the devastation caused by a mighty flood. She narrates the story of her mistress’ ill fated love for a mortal man: Madame White is a snake spirit who yearned to be human and to experience love. She was able to transform into a beautiful woman after one thousand years of meditation. But a powerful Abbot determined that her love was not to be. He turned her lover against her and transported him to the Golden Mountain monastery. In the battle for her lover, Madame White raised the waters she commanded to flood the Abbot’s sanctuary. The floodwaters devastated the plains and valleys and drowned thousands of people.

This is the tragedy of Madame White Snake.

Act I | Spring:Awakening

Scene 1: At the Broken Bridge

Madame White awakens at the Broken Bridge as a beautiful woman. Spring is in full bloom and she glories in the beauty of the earth and her transformation. The gods gave her the power to assume the human form because through sheer force of will, she was able to meditate on being human for one thousand years.

Xiao Qing, on the other hand, could only meditate for 500 years and is half snake and half woman. She would rather be a snake.

Xiao Qing alerts Madame White to the first human she sees. He is a man carrying an umbrella. Madame White watches the man walk by. Their eyes meet. They feel a sudden attraction for each other as they recognize each other from a prior life. Madame White asks Xiao Qing to bring him to her. Xiao Qing conjures up spring rain to shower the couple. The man gallantly shelters Madame White under his umbrella and leaves it with her. Madame White invites him to come to her home later to retrieve it.

Act II | Summer:Passion

Scene 1: At Madame White’s House

Madame White waits impatiently for the man at the Broken Bridge to retrieve his umbrella. Xiao Qing reports that the man is Xu Xian, a herbalist, who gave up an important government position to devote himself to the healing arts. He is still unmarried. Madame White orders Xiao Qing to be their matchmaker. Xiao Qing resists, afraid of the consequences of love between a mortal and a spirit. But Madame White insists.

When Xu arrives, Madame White serves him a wondrous cup of tea made from the elements of the four seasons.

Xu inquires about her health. She tells him she has a sickness of the heart. He takes her hand and feels her pulse. He hears her heart tell him of her love. He places her hand on his pulse and she hears his heart respond. The lovers rejoice in their newfound love.

Xu proposes they be married at once. Madame White agrees, with one condition: That she be permitted to go on a night sojourn once a month accompanied only by Xiao Qing. (In fact, Madame White and Xiao Qing have to go to the lake once a month to shed their skins.) Madame White tells Xu he cannot question her about the sojourn. She begs him to trust her. Troubled and confused, Xu reluctantly gives in and promises not to question her. The couple celebrates their love. Xiao Qing rues the day the lovers met.

Scene 2: Love Scene

Xiao Qing sings about the transforming power of love. She has seen her mistress change from a ferocious warrior queen, a venomous snake, to a loving and devoted wife. She muses about this thing called love and wonders if it can last forever.

Act III | Fall:Decay

Scene 1: At Madame White’s House

The Abbot of the Golden Monastery arrives in search of Madame White and Xu. News of the couple’s great love has spread far and wide and the Abbot wishes to meet them. He has journeyed along the narrow path to nirvana for one thousand years preaching about love.

Madame White returns home and encounters the Abbot. Their eyes meet. He sees a snake; she sees her destroyer. She flees into her house.

Madame White agonizes over what she should do. For a brief moment, she considers ripping out the Abbot’s throat to protect her secret. She wonders whether she should tell her husband the truth, trusting in his love, or whether she should continue to hide her true self from him? She is afraid to lose her love, her reason for being on this earth. She feels time closing in on her. She understands now what it means to be mortal.

The Abbot faces his own dilemma. He believes he is but one step away from nirvana and wonders what that right step is. Should he leave the lovers in peace? Or is the right step to expose the demon snake and drive her away? His faith in the transforming power of love is put to the test. The final step eludes him.

Xu returns and meets the Abbot who asks him what he knows about his wife. Xu is thrown into turmoil. The seed of doubt that was planted when Madame White extracted his promise not to question her begins to grow wildly.

Xu confronts his wife about her past. He demands to know where she goes on her monthly sojourns. Madame White reminds him of his oath not to question her. She begs him to trust her, for the sake of their love and their unborn child.

Xu is horrified to learn she is pregnant. His doubts coalesce around the child. He wonders who the father really is. He flees the house in anguish.

Act IV | Winter:Betrayal

Scene 1: At the Monastery

Xu goes in search of the Abbot at the Golden Mountain Monastery and begs him for help. The Abbot warns him that love may not be able to withstand the destructive power of truth. Xu says he is prepared for whatever the truth may bring. He discloses that his wife is pregnant. At this moment, the Abbot believes he sees the way clearly – he is convinced he now knows what the final step is for him and gives Xu a “truth” potion.

Xu climbs down the mountain. A blizzard has started and he fights the driving wind and snow as he struggles onward. His mind is whirling like the blizzard he faces. He wonders if he is ready to take the final step to discover the truth about his wife. He debates if he should live with his wife without the truth or seek the truth and risk losing her forever. He is fearful of the potion the Abbot has given him yet he is desperate for peace of mind.

Scene 2: At the Broken Bridge

Madame White walks to the West Lake. She climbs the Broken Bridge where she first met Xu, singing a lullaby to her unborn child. Xiao Qing begs Madame White to leave while there is still time. Madame White refuses. She still hopes that Xu will return and love her. She decides to take the final step and tell him the truth about who she is.

Xu approaches the Broken Bridge and sees his wife. He is transfixed by her sad beauty and wonders what it may conceal. He resolves to take the final step in his quest for the truth.

Madame White rejoices that he has come back to her. She tells him that she is ready to reveal her true self to him. He brushes her off with a lie and tells her that he has prepared a herbal remedy to strengthen her in her pregnancy. He hands her the potion.

Madame White accepts the potion and thus accepts her fate. She toasts her husband and their love. She tells him she has waited a long time for him to accept her unconditionally. She weeps at the poignancy of the moment, knowing that love is lost.

Madame White brings the potion to her lips and drinks. She looks into her husband’s eyes. An unearthly wail issues from her lips. She sinks to the ground as her human form dissolves and she changes into a white snake. Xiao Qing rushes to her side.

Xu looks on in horror. He echoes her despairing cry and falls to the ground. The Abbot comes to his aid and spirits him away.

Act V: War

War begins as Madame White fights the Abbot for the body and soul of Xu. She raises the waters to drown the Abbot who has retreated to the Golden Mountain Monastery. The land is devastated by the flood; thousands of people die.

Xiao Qing stands on a dark stage. She is alone as she despairingly summarizes the human condition.

Copyright 2007 Cerise Lim Jacobs