Chamber Music Northwest — Beyond the Cultural Revolution: 'The Silver River'
20th July 2018
The Silver River weaves Chinese and Western cultures into a magical operatic work of exquisite beauty. This chamber opera for western actress, male Chinese singer, western baritone, and ensemble of six musicians was conceived by the renowned composer Bright Sheng and Tony Award-winning librettist David Henry Hwang. The Silver River updates a 5,000-year-old Chinese myth of ill-fated love between a celestial being and a mortal, ultimately interpreting the creation of night and day.
According to ancient Chinese legend, Night and Day were created through the love between a heavenly being and a mortal. The legend of the Silver River comes alive in a bewitching production populated by Jade Emperors, Goddess Weavers, and other celestial beings. Sheng and Hwang integrate elements from both Western and Chinese opera in a touching and timeless fable.
While tragic love stories have always had a place in Asian culture, the popularity and longevity of this particular folk myth is especially significant. It reflects the traditional vision of a happy life between a male farmer and female weaver as well as a repressed longing for self-chosen love amidst the arranged marriages of old Chinese society. The story also expresses the fantasy of a perfect 'heavenly love,' which can only be fulfilled one day a year. On this day, the separated lovers are allowed to cross the Silver River (the Milky Way) on a bridge made by the overlapping wings of all the magpies in the world — a Chinese Valentine's Day.
In our day, the struggle to live with and love one another continues to prove a formidable challenge. When the Buffalo declares, 'We can all live in harmony, if only we have love to bridge the distance,' are these words of vision or naïveté? Perhaps the story of the cowherd and Goddess-Weaver represents a bit of both, for like most great romantic myths, it celebrates the dream of a perfect love struggling to survive in our imperfect world.
— Bright Sheng
Sheng and librettist David Henry Hwang have fashioned a music theater fable of great charm and imagination. The Silver River skillfully fuses eastern and western musical impulses, merging song, speech and movement, with tight percussion-laced rhythms. With a sweet simplicity, their chamber opera creates magic before our eyes.
— John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
CMNW's Beyond the Cultural Revolution series will also feature Tan Dun's Ghost Opera at Reed College's Kaul Auditorium on July 23.