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Special Reports

MA 30 Movers & Shapers: Cerise Jacobs

December 5, 2017 | By Richard S. Ginell

Co-Founder, Librettist
White Snake Projects

Cerise Lim Jacobs was a Boston lawyer for more than two decades. Then, three years after she retired, she found a new calling. In 2005, as a birthday present for her husband, she started to write a libretto for a song cycle based on a Chinese folk tale. Upon his prodding to go deeper, she expanded it into an opera, for which composer Zhou Long would write the score. The result was Madame White Snake.

To fund the project, Jacobs and her now late husband formed a 501(c)(3) corporation called White Snake Projects, which raised the money to put on the work with Opera Boston in 2010. It went on to win the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

But Jacobs didn’t stop there. White Snake Projects ultimately became an expansive commissioning program to include seven operas over a span of five years using original Jacobs stories. She expanded her original idea into a trilogy—Madame White Snake, Naga, and Gilgames—under the umbrella name of Ouroboros Trilogy, which was performed in an all-day marathon in September 2016 at Boston’s Cutler Majestic Theater.

Last September, her REV. 23, described as “a farcical hellish opera which traverses hell, paradise-on-earth and everywhere in between,” and sporting a poly-styled score by Julian Wachner, was premiered at John Hancock Hall. Future projects include an interactive video-game opera, PermaDeath (scheduled for September 2018); Monkey, a “kung fu puppet parable” (September 2019); and Cosmic Cowboy, inspired by the robotic space probe Philae (September 2020).

“I want to create American opera that comes from my imagination,” says Jacobs. “I’m not interested in writing libretti derived from a play, book, or movie, no matter how great…. Perhaps I will feel differently later in my development, but right now, there are just too many stories bursting out of me.”


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