Cast & Production
A Beth Morrison Projects Production, starring Christopher Burchett, Heather Buck, Hila Plitmann, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Andrew Nolen, conducted by Julian Wachner
Commissioned by Friends of Madame White Snake
Conceived by Charles Jacobs and Cerise Lim Jacobs
Libretti by Cerise Lim Jacobs
Director Michael Counts, Projection Design S. Katy Tucker
Premiered at The Emerson Cutler Majestic in September 2016, presented by Boston Celebrity Series.
Gilgamesh is the story of Ming, the son of Madame White Snake, half demon-half man who was abandoned during his mother’s epic battle with the Abbot. He is identified with the protagonist of the Sumerian Epic, “Gilgamesh”, who was two-thirds god and one-third man. When the White Snake suddenly sends for him on his thirtieth birthday, he finds her in the form of a beautiful woman imprisoned in the Abbot’s alms bowl. The White Snake reveals his birthright and his power to control the waters. Ming tests his powers and brings the world to the brink of another devastating flood. The Abbot appears and sows the seeds of doubt about his mother. When Ming goes back to see her again, he sees a white snake in the alms bowl. Ming returns home to find that his wife, Ku, has just given birth to a white, iridescent baby girl who resembles her grandmother. He gives the baby to the green snake, Xiao Qing, who had taken him as a baby away from the floodwaters. He returns to the monastery. There is no one there. A robe and empty alms bowl are left. Ming dons the robe, takes the alms bowl and leaves.
Diving into the legend of Madame Whitesnake has been a truly fascinating journey. Cerise’s text is deeply poetic and her writing contains numerous layers and references that both gives me a clear structure while still leaving me a great deal of freedom to dive in fully to create my first fully operatic work. I love the concept of the Ouroboros Trilogy and that the recurring themes and motifs that occur in each opera are interpreted uniquely by each composer. Gilgamesh is structured so that there is a propulsive drive throughout the first three acts. It is then met with a deeply meditative epilogue that allows the audience to ponder the drama that has occurred. Leitmotifs are assigned to emotions and actions, rather than to characters, thus binding them in cyclical patterns that determine and unlock their fate.
“An enchanted exploration of the eternal mysteries….[Prestini’s] atmospheric but tuneful music for “Gilgamesh” inhabited an indie-opera rainforest of its own…”
“It sparkles, both literally and figuratively…Her melodies entice and speak of a modern, yet accessible flare…it holds its intensity with valor through its end.”
“From Paola Prestini we heard a prelude and aria from her opera Gilgamesh. A daring opening, with hard strings biting on a semitone, builds into climbing waves of strings, creating drama and establishing a musical language to use throughout the piece. The vocal part was sung by Jakub Józef Orliński, a promising countertenor with a powerful, direct instrument that can shift between mixed voice and full falsetto without revealing a seam. In this as in all of her work, Prestini shows a strong compositional voice and an arresting focus in her writing: vigorous melodic lines grab the listener, supported by tart harmonies. At this point, she has to be considered a major talent.”
“From her opera “Gilgamesh,” Ms. Prestini drew “Prelude and Aria,” which begins with heaving and ominous intensity and evolves into a plaintive vocal monologue, sung meltingly by the countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski.”