Cerise Lim Jacobs Reinvents Opera Using Activism & Technology

Cerise Lim Jacobs
Cerise Lim Jacobs, Executive Producer
White Snake Projects

When Cerise Lim Jacobs, Executive Producer of White Snake Projects, read about the murder of George Floyd, she wanted to do more than make a statement of solidarity. She wanted to use the full power of her art to explore systemic racism. 

She decided to focus on the issue of mass incarceration since the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Black people are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of white people.

White Snake’s Opera About Mass Incarceration Opens This Week

During this week that marks the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death, White Snake Projects is presenting Death by Life, a 70-minute opera that explores the impact of life imprisonment on the inmates and their family members.

The opera will have three online performances on May 20, 22 & 25, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time/7:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  Tickets are “pay what you can” with free tickets available to anyone who needs them. 

Expanding the World of Opera through Activism

Jacobs, an immigrant woman of color from Singapore, is redefining how opera is made by involving people from outside the traditional opera community. For Death by Life, she purchased the rights to essays by eight people who are currently experiencing incarceration as prisoners or as family members of prisoners. Their stories, told in their own words, show the humanity of those experiencing incarceration – whether they are waking up in a cell, working to assimilate back into society as ex-cons, or enduring heartbreak as mothers whose children have life sentences. 

In this scene a mother laments that she is a also lifer while her son serves a life sentence. Based on text by Mary L. Johnson. Music by Mary D. Watkins.

White Snake Projects commissioned five Black composers representing a range of ages and styles to set these powerful stories to music – Mary D. WatkinsLeila AduJacinth Greywoode,  Jonathan Bailey Holland, and David Sanford. Each composer has written one of the five scenes. Kimille Howard directs and Tianhui Ng is the music director.  

Check Out White Snake’s Cool Technology!

White Snake Projects is known for its technological innovations as well as its political activism, and they have spent the past year developing the complex real-time tools they need for live virtual performances.  For the three performances of Death by Life, the singers will be performing live in front of green screens in their homes in four different states. Their voices will be streamed to an audio engineer in Kansas City, who will mix them and then send them to White Snake’s broadcast engineer in Chicago.

The broadcast engineer will sync the audio and video and replace the performer’s green screens with 3D virtual sets designed by White Snake’s Director of Innovation, Curvin Huber, using Unreal Engine, a powerful video game development platform. The production will also feature an animated bird character. White Snake used similar techniques for their previous virtual opera, Alice in the Pandemic, and the results were truly magical. 

This short video shows some of the Death By Life singers and virtual sets.

Death By Life – A Virtual Opera about Racism and the Prison System

  • Dates: May 20, 22 & 25 at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time; 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Tickets – Pay What You Can: $0 – $150 (Note: White Snake offers free tickets to anyone who has experienced incarceration (or their loved ones), and to anyone financially impacted by the pandemic.)
  • Where to Watch:  Crowdcast link will be sent when you purchase or register for a ticket.