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The Romance of Madame White Snake (Reposted from Facebook)

When I began writing new songs for "The Trick" EP, I'd started with an adaptation of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and decided it would be fun to build a song cycle out of classical numbers. I'd only seen one other contemporary artist, Elizaveta, doing so, but I loved the results. One other piece I'd been playing since childhood was Rubinstein's "Romance," but I didn't know what story it should tell, other than the fact that it should be a love story.

My friend, Ivan Chan, whom I've known for thirty years, suggested that I try adapting the Chinese legend of Madame White Snake. The legend is something like eight centuries old, so there are various iterations of the story, often quite divergent from one another. That divergence actually provided me the latitude to experiment with the lyrics and tell the story I wanted.

In all versions of the story, Madame White Snake begins her life as a snake in a pond until she swallows a potion that gives her supernatural powers. In most tellings, the potion is something she accidentally ingests when a magician pours an elixir into the pond. In some tellings, the being she becomes is powerful but neutral/amoral; in others, moral and inquisitive; in the earliest tellings, she was more of a power hungry demon. In any event, she decides to become human in order to understand what it means to comprehend one's mortality. Transforming herself into a human, she eventually elicits the love of a young man whom she ultimately marries.

When he ultimately learns of her true nature, he is appalled. Some variants of the story have him dying of shock; others have him killing her; some have him morally conflicted and imprisoning her but unable to kill her. A few have them living out their days happily and running an apothecary.

In my version, I opted for a less cynical portrayal of the characters. She is originally an amoral character, not for lack of conscience but lack of knowledge. The love she feels for him is true, and it is this love that compels her to use her powers to transform herself into a human. And she spends time with him, she comes to understand her transfiguration as a lie and longs to make her lie true so as not to keep secrets from him. He is nonetheless frightened to the point of death and angered by the lie, or at least its discovery. As he is dying, she pleads with him to understand that her love is true, and he does. She dies in his arms of a broken heart as he is dying, but at least they have found something true and immortal: The power of love and the importance of forgiveness.

To sing the female voice of Madame White Snake, I enlisted my dear (and amazingly talented) friend, J'ney Uplinger. She brought such amazing warmth to the lines that I get chills listening, especially to her line "the rush, the sudden flood come from warm blood."


He: I fell in love with you not knowing your true soul Beneath your ivory hue: Desire devoured us whole.

She: And yet my lie is true; for naught but you did I change. In love did I beseem what you esteem become and to know

Both: The flush of love and feel its pulse in my veins.

She: At first sight I loved you

He: At first sight you deceived

She: I had a wish...

He: Had you a heart? So I believed...

She: I'd dreamt, but never known: One soul alone until you. The rush, the sudden flood come from warm blood And only true love

Both: The flush of love and feel its pulse in my veins.

He: The Broken Bridge, the rain --

She: I had to meet again

He: My skin, my ribs: they kept you dry. Another day I... Came back to see once more The Red House on the shore. Your fiction grew

She: My tale was no illusion.

HE: I loved you never knowing who or what you were, what bargains you had struck, with what demons you'd conferred.

[SHE: I loved you too ... I could not bear ... To let you see... That part of me]

Both: In Heaven stars divine some twist in Fate's design And as the spool unwinds, our skeins do intertwine

He: Illusions...

She: I needed...

He: .... you showed me....

She: ... To feel

Both: All that Heaven grants us: No more, I'm sure All that Heaven grants, we must take or forsake And all that makes us human Between the womb and tomb In that small room In which to bloom in, We bloom in: We bloom in love!

She: I've loved you since I saw you

He: Is this...?

She: It's no illusion!

He: White flower? The trees in bloom?

She: In love.

Both: The petals on the water send ripples out through time.

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