Synopsis

(written by Ernest Hilbert)

 

 

 

Act I

 

The famous Venetian world traveler Marco Polo returns from a diplomatic journey to the court of his patron, the Great Kublai Kahn. A lavish celebration is underway. Kahn’s daughter, the beautiful young Princess Cocachin, has been promised in marriage to the cruel King Arghun of Persia in order to quell the threat of looming war and reopen the profitable but oftentimes dangerous trade route from Persia to China. Marco Polo and the unhappy teenaged princess find themselves mysteriously drawn to each other. The princess’s lady-in-waiting, Saran, senses trouble and vows to keep the two apart until they leave for Persia. During the celebration, the superstitious Kahn’s favorite soothsayer delivers a worrying prophecy about the princess’s future, but the emperor, in a contented mood, chooses to dismiss it. During a secret rendezvous the next day in the palace garden, Marco Polo and the princess come to realize that their forbidden love is hazardous not only to themselves but to the future of Great Kahn’s empire. Marco Polo pledges to set off at once on a new journey and forget the princess forever, but he is waylaid by the emperor, who announces he has chosen Marco Polo, the only man he truly trusts, to escort the princess across perilous seas and deserts to the court of the dreaded King of Persia. . . .

 

 

Act II

 

Marco Polo commands a fleet of imperial war junks carrying the princess to Persia. She has chosen to remain below deck during the passage. A captain warns of the threat of Wokou, ravenous Japanese pirates, but Marco Polo, preoccupied with thoughts of the princess, chooses to ignore the warning as his fleet approaches a narrow strait where they will be vulnerable to attack. That night, by the light of a full moon, Marco Polo restlessly paces the decks alone. Princess Cocachin, also believing she is alone, emerges from her cabin to sing to the moon. They meet and wonder why they cannot be together. The princess gives Marco Polo a cloth into which she has woven a red silk thread, promising that, according to a proverb, whatever happens, the invisible “red thread of fate” will always connect them. They are surprised by Saran, who sends the princess back to her cabin. Saran tells the sad story of her own youthful love gone dreadfully wrong. She explains again why the two must remain apart. After she leaves, Marco Polo sings his own plaintive song to the moon, wondering who he really is after all these years. Before he can finish, alarms are sounded as Wokou swarm the junk. Marco Polo leaps into a ferocious sword battle with the pirates. He must decide if he will risk his life against impossible odds to rescue the princess as pirates carry her back to their ship . . . .

 

 

Act III

 

Marco Polo’s uncle Maffeo arrives early in the Persian court only to find it empty. He imagines himself a king for a day. He begins to suspect that something is amiss after happening upon the Persian King’s attendant Caspar, who is frantically concerned about the impending marriage. When Marco Polo and the princess arrive, it is obvious to all that they have grown dangerously close. They are introduced to King Arghun's dashing and charismatic son Prince Ghazan, who charms the delegation, including the princess. Princess Cocachin trembles at the thought of the impending wedding but sudden news arrives that the old King Arghun has died before the ceremony could begin. Marco Polo rejoices only to discover that the wedding will proceed after all with Prince Ghazan, who will become the new king and bring peace to the warring kingdoms. Marco Polo, jealous and protective, draws his sword on Prince Ghazan and the two prepare to duel. Princess Cocachin assumes control over her life for the first time, separating the men and explaining to Marco Polo that their love could never be and that she has decided to fulfill her destiny by marrying the prince and becoming a queen. In the final scene, Marco Polo finds himself a prisoner-of-war in a Genoese prison cell with a writer named Rustichello, to whom he relates his wondrous travels, leaving out only the story of his lost love for the princess. Upon being freed from captivity, Marco Polo is given a letter from the Persian Court announcing that the princess has been poisoned. The most painful memory rushes back and Marco Polo finds himself transported to a desert, where he encounters a vision of the princess. Still connected by the red thread, they sing to each other one last time.