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Bright Sheng

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Silver River (1997)
Text Writer
Libretto by David Henry Hwang.
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1 Hour 8 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
African-American Actress (Western style) [can be modified to read “Actress (Western Style)"], Asian Male Singer (Chinese Opera style), Baritone (Western Opera/Music Theater style), Asian Female Dancer, 2 Dancers
Programme Note
Bright Sheng The Silver River (1997)

According to ancient Chinese legend, Night and Day were created through the ill-fated 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. Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang, librettist of the Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly, integrate elements from both Western and Chinese opera in a touching and timeless fable.

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[In] THE SILVER RIVER, this hybrid of Chinese opera and modern theater is likely to jam the radar in the eye of its beholders - but in a most pleasant way. Stylishly designed...this thoughtful, cultivated piece of music theater brings together disparate elements, from a Chinese pipa to a neon-framed waterfall. [But] everything is held in check, nothing goes too far [in] the challenge posed by such a genre-bending dramatization of the ancient Chinese myth about forbidden romance between a cowherd and star-weaving goddess. Though Sheng has written music of Wagnerian strong-mindedness, much of his intentionally modest score is content to support the action. Even when taking the foreground, the music maintains a folklike simplicity that, is in fact, wrought with great precision. The Silver River [is] an engagingly eclectic tapestry.
David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer,01/01/0001
Creative imagination was put to use [at Spoleto] when Bright Sheng conducted an expanded edition of his delicate quasi-opera, THE SILVER RIVER. First performed in Santa Fe three years ago, this inspired fusion of Asian Fable and western satire treads precarious lines: between the lofty and the earthy, between ritual and invention, between ancient mannerism and modern, between Peking Opera formality and contemporary-narrative nonchalance. Miraculously, Sheng and his librettist, David Henry Hwang have taken no false steps. The music shimmers and soars in numerous individual accents, sometimes percussively punctuating the text, sometimes exquisitely expanding the inherent emotion. Ong Ken Sen directed the proceedings with fluid charm, and Muna Tseng provided elegantly stylized choreography. The intricate, introspective piece lasts only 75 minutes. Short minutes.
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times (London),01/01/0001
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,01/01/0001
Sheng’s slender reworking of his chamber piece The Silver River into a mini-opera melding Chinese and European traditions [is] so tenderly expressive, so elegantly drawn. Sheng used the clipped, clever dialogue in a libretto by Hwang for his metaphorical tale of the mythical river where lovers meet once a year. Characters, à la Chinese theatrical tradition, had onstage counterparts: silent dancer, baritone, Beijing Opera singer [and] pipa player. What could have been a cultural jumble was translated with pristine beauty.
Will J. Conrad , Opera News ,01/01/0001
Bright Sheng and playwright David Henry Hwang's THE SILVER RIVER is an enchanting chamber opera version of the beguiling and resonant mythical Chinese folk tale of thwarted but enduring love. THE SILVER RIVER received its New York premiere in an imaginative production directed by Ong Keng Sen. The work is direct and playful, a Chinese-inflected, contemporary cousin to Mozart's MAGIC FLUTE. Sheng has won acclaim for gracefully mixing elements of traditional Chinese music with Western idioms to produce a compositional voice that seems assuredly his own. In this work, the chamber ensemble, conducted by Mr. Sheng, employs just a violin, clarinet and cello with an array of percussion instruments...[Upon] hearing the zigzagging thematic lines, rhythmic riffs and clattering wood blocks and drums you might be listening to a gritty recent work from a contemporary music ensemble in New York, or to a re-creation of some classical Chinese dance score. There is an earthy, ethnic quality to the sounds that Sheng elicits...Yet when the mood calls for it, as in the courtship scenes, the subtle beauty of Sheng's music is wistfully lyrical, suffused with wayward modal harmonies that seem at once ancient and fresh.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,01/01/0001
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