The final act of ‘Snow’ is in many ways the darkest act of the piece. The first three scenes follow the story of the Raven Prince, a war-hardened, brooding character who has stumbled across and become obsessed with the corpse of Snow White. His mother, the Mother Raven, is unconvinced by his choice of bride but the Prince commands her to take care of his wife-to-be as he sets off for war. The final scenes see Snow White come to life, and the two search for peace and fulfillment in one another. The act doesn’t reach “happily ever after” but instead ends ambiguously as “snow flakes like white feathers” begin to fall.
Working with any well known tale or myth gives the composer/librettist a helpful, common ground with the audience but at the same time it provides the opportunity to subvert the audience’s expectations of these well known characters. The prince in this piece is certainly not charming and Snow White won’t be picking up a broom anytime soon! What both characters share is a yearning for calm in their dark, troubling lives, and perhaps for something they themselves don’t yet understand.
When I first read the text for the act I knew it would be important to musically trace the journey of the piece from the macabre, disturbing nature of the opening through to the calm, white and poetic final moments of the piece. Unlike the previous two acts, this act moves quickly through a series of short scenes, each with a very different emotional tone. From the Raven Prince’s dark love songs to his corpse bride, to the Mother Raven’s lamenting-lullaby for the grandchildren she’ll never have, to Snow White’s disturbing reliving of her death, the piece presented the opportunity to wander into a range of vignettes, carrying our characters towards the final moment. The imagery of the raven and the snow, of war and peace and of light and shade bubbles up through the shifting dissonances and consonances in the score as we finally see Snow White and the Raven Prince awaken.