Based on Torah and Midrash
Prologue: Bamidbar (in the desert)
The overture begins. Behind dunes and palm trees is a scrim. The chorus enters, dancing amidst the dunes and singing the names and manifestations of God. A Fugue begins as the chorus describes the plight of women as guardians of the future.
Prologue, Scene 1:
The offstage voice of God recounts his providence toward the Israelites. Miriam enters proclaiming that she is the voice of the women. She is joined by her brothers, Moses and Aaron. Moses’ foreign-born wife Zipporah has intervened for him when he neglected to follow God’s covenant. The siblings are summoned into the tent of meeting and reprimanded by God, who punishes Miriam with a leprosy-like disease for criticizing Moses. When she emerges from the tent, the people are shocked. Led by Moses they pray for her healing. Miriam laments her predicament, but reminds the people that she acted as the women’s voice. They respect her abilities, and choose to wait for her healing.
Act 1, Scene 1:
Inside the mid-wives’ birthing tent, two women are positioned on birthing stools. The child Miriam, also called Puah (meaning “whisper”), is assisting her mother. She whispers to the women to soothe their stress. Yocheved, Miriam’s mother, also called Shifra, tells Miriam (Puah) that she possesses natural instincts and a good spirit, and should always speak her mind. As Miriam rests from her work, her mother, and chorus, sing about the difficulties of raising a special child. While Miriam sleeps, she has a dream of water, peace and harmony among people.
Act 1, Scene 2:
Pharaoh, in his palace, paces nervously. He recounts a troubling dream, the meaning of which is revealed by a magician: an Israelite will be born who will grow up to challenge Pharaoh’s reign. The Pharaoh calls in the midwives and instructs them to drown all male Hebrew babies. Miriam calls him an evil man, and Pharaoh orders her death. Her mother pleads for Miriam, and Pharaoh relents.
Act 1, Scene 3:
Amram, Miriam’s father, is in an orchard, Miriam enters, agitated, sharing Pharaoh’s decree. Her father has set an example by divorcing his wife to avoid propagating offspring. Miriam urges him to remarry, for survival of the clan. Women enter, singing, each dancing seductively around her husband. One by one, the couples lie down under the trees.
Act 1, Scene 4:
Amram and Yocheved, now pregnant, are seated in their tent. Miriam enters and announces that the child her mother now carries will be the redeemer of Israel. As time has passed, Yocheved relates the birth of Moses. She and Amram sing of the hope that their child will bring freedom.
Act One, Scene 5:
Miriam, Amram and Yocheved are walking at the water’s edge, carrying a large basket. The baby Moses is now too old to hide. The basket is floated on the Nile where it is spied by Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter. The princess is delighted, and decides to raise the child as her own. Miriam steps from the reeds, offering to find a wet-nurse for the child. The princess sings a lullaby to the baby, In the cradle of mankind.
End of Act One
Act 2, Scene 1:
Miriam appears before the scrim with her husband Caleb. They sing of their love and respect for each other. As Caleb leaves, she recounts that her enraged brother killed an Egyptian guard and has had to flee to the land of Midian, where he marries Zipporah, daughter of a local priest.
Act Two, Scene 2:
Moses tells Jethro, his father-in-law, that God has appeared to him in the burning bush, and that he must return to Egypt to free the Hebrew slaves. Jethro trusts Moses, and bids him depart, but implores him to keep his family safe
Act Two, Scene 3:
Moses, back in Egypt, addresses the Israelites onstage. Miriam tells the women to bring their musical instruments and the slaves are led to freedom. After the frightened Israelites pass safely through the sea, Miriam leads the Song of the Sea as the women sing and dance. The choir then reprises the names of God heard at the beginning.
Act Two, Scene 4:
The lights come up on Hur, Miriam’s son and Aaron walking at the foot of a mountain. Moses has disappeared on the mountain. The people have lost their faith. The men have contributed gold to build a new idol, the Golden Calf. Hur is killed while trying to stop the idol makers. The women, have refused to contribute their gold; Aaron sings that they must be rewarded. The women sing of Shechina, the female essence of God, as they prepare for their reward, a day of rest at the celebration of the new moon, Rosh Chodesh.
Miriam sings of her grandson Bezalel, whom God has chosen to construct the ark, the manifestation of God’s presence in the midst of the Israelites.
Caleb is part of the party of scouts who have been sent to evaluate the new territory. He and Joshua contest the report of giants in the land, given by the other spies. They alone, among the original protagonists, will have the privilege of entering the promised land.
Miriam is now an old woman, as at the beginning. The women of the desert plead to be remembered. Miriam, now cured of her disease, awaits the kiss of death as the chorus sings the shema. She envisions her impending demise in a dream.
The chorus marches into the audience celebrating the eternal message of the Torah.