e-ISSN: 2625-378X
p-ISSN: 2701-2689


The Transtextual Gender Construction in the Opera Madame White Snake

Fang Bo [方博]

ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL 7 (2021)     pp: 1-18     2021-06-21

Stichworte/keywords: Opera, Chinese drama, Legends, Gender construction

Cite: APA    BibTeX

[方博], F.B. (2021). The Transtextual Gender Construction in the Opera Madame White Snake. ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL, 7 , 1-18. doi:10.30819/aemr.7-1
doi = {10.30819/aemr.7-1},
url = {},
year = 2021,
publisher = {Logos Verlag Berlin},
volume = {7},
pages = {1-18},
author = {Fang Bo [方博]},
title = {The Transtextual Gender Construction in the Opera Madame White Snake},

The opera Madame White Snake (hereafter Madame), co-commissioned by Opera Boston and Beijing Music Festival, premiered at Boston Cutler Majestic Theater in February 2010. It was the first commissioned opera by Opera Boston.1 Based on the story from the famous Chinese ancient myth Bai She Zhuan 2 (in Chinese: 白蛇传), this opera’s libretto was created by a Singaporean American librettist, who has shed the story’s “traditional skin and taking on modern trappings” (Smith, 2019: 27) on purpose. When sniffing at male librettists’ discourses about female characters’ vulnerable and tragic lives in their operas, opera Madame’s initiator and librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs argues that women should seize the initiative to make their own decisions in life. The white snake, in her mind, ought to be a whole woman who is powerful and demonic, and yet, is also nurturing and caring, is capable of deep and intense love. In the first section of this article, I introduce the original legend’s background and the story outline in its operatic adaptation; I also trace back the opera’s commissioning process. After providing the background information of the story and the operatic version, then, in the second section I analyze the opera in terms of its transtextual figural gender construction in her characterization through comparative studies of the white and green snakes’ images from the sources of literary works, traditional xiqu scripts and operatic librettos. Referring to Lim’s personal growth and migrating history, as well as she and her husband co-founded charitable foundation’s missions and its recent IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) opera grant program partnering with Opera America, I aim to examine her gender construction of the “female” roles in the opera from the perspectives of feminism, interracial marriage; and heterosexual, transsexual, and homosexual relationships.
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