In the time of the Pharaohs, on the banks of the Egyptian Nile, Israelite slaves sing their stories. Many years ago, they followed Joseph into Egypt. But the Israelites became enslaved by a new Pharaoh, who heartlessly orders the death of all Israel’s sons.
Jocabed, a slave, fears for the life of her newborn son. She places a basket into the Nile, with her son tucked inside, and watches as he floats away. By some miracle, the basket is spotted by Bithia, a princess of Egypt. She lifts the basket from the water and is amazed to find a baby inside. She immediately declares that she will raise him as her own son and call him Moses.
SCENE TWO – In Pharaoh’s Kingdom – some years later
Moses and Ramses, the future Pharaoh, are now young men. Moses teases his adopted brother and Ramses admits that he would abdicate the throne to Moses if he could, believing his brother has the disposition of a warrior and a king. However, Moses says he has no ambitions to rule, and his place is with the people.
Just then, a slave foreman and a group of slaves walk by. The foreman brutally whips a fallen slave in front of Moses and Ramses. Incensed by this cruelty, Moses leaps forward to defend the slave and grabs the foreman though Ramses quickly steps in. Allowing the foreman to leave, Ramses warns Moses that he must control his anger and that even a prince is not above Pharaoh’s law.
Later that night, while Moses walks through the city, the foreman and his men attack him. Moses kills the foreman but the other men run away and tell Ramses what he has done. Ramses knows it is his duty as Pharaoh to execute Moses for his crime, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Instead, Ramses banishes Moses to the desert, declaring “You are no longer a Prince of Egypt, you are the Prince of Sand.”
SCENE THREE – In search of the Voice
Moses wanders the desert, lost and searching for a new life. He is caught in a sandstorm and awakens to find himself near a well, surrounded by seven sisters, including the beautiful Zeporah. Seven Shepherds also arrive at the well and begin to harass the sisters. Moses defends the sisters against the shepherds though he is greatly outnumbered. He defeats them just as Zeporah’s father, Jethro, arrives. Impressed by Moses, Jethro allows Zeporah to marry the mysterious, brave stranger. With Zeporah, Moses has finally found a home.
SCENE 4 - YAHWEH
On a starry night Zeporah shares with Moses that she is expecting his child. He is filled with joy. Suddenly though, Moses hears the Voice of God, summoning him to the top of Mount Sinai. There, the Voice instructs Moses to return to Egypt and free the people of Israel. Worried and troubled, Moses nonetheless obeys and returns to Pharaoh’s court to confront his powerful adopted brother, Ramses. Ramses refuses and demands that Moses show him alleged the power of his God. Moses begs his brother to heed his plea, for Moses fears the consequences if Ramses does not. Ramses, still angry at Moses for what he perceives’ as his brother’s betrayal, angrily refuses.
The Ten Plagues descend upon Egypt, sparing the Israelites, only affecting the people of Egypt. Ramses’ young son dies during the final plague. Weeping, Ramses relents and tells Moses to take his people and go into the desert.
SCENE 5 – IN THE DESERT
The Exodus of the people of Israel begins, with hope and festivities. Ramses observes their joy and his grief turns into rage. Ramses mounts his chariot and leads his army after Moses and the people of Israel, who find themselves on the shore of the Red Sea. Moses raises his arms and the sea parts, allowing the Israelites to safely cross. But when Ramses and his army attempt to follow them, the seas close, drowning Pharaoh’s army.
Moses guides his people into the desert, but the journey is hard and long. The people of Israel begin to lose faith. They begin to dance before a golden calf, worshiping it and forsaking Moses and their God. Seeking guidance, Moses again climbs Mount Sinai, finding himself before the Burning Bush from which God speaks. God is outraged by the behavior of the people and their heresy. He declares that he will punish them for their faithlessness, but one last time, Moses steps forward as defender; he offers himself in place of the people. God’s love flows over Moses and he gifts Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. As the opera ends, Moses brings the commandments back down to the people of Israel, and by the light of the glowing tablets, they find their faith again. They are finally free, safe and home.