In a reinvention of an ancient Chinese myth, The Silver River tells of the mortals and the gods who originally lived in eternal sunlight because the Silver River – the Milky Way – touched the earth. The fairest of Goddess-Weavers, a daughter of the Jade Emperor, would spin stars for the Silver River and create the music of the heavens. Once a year, she would descend to Earth to bathe in the Silver River. On one of her annual sojourns, the Goddess-Weaver falls in love with a mortal Cowherd, and he with her. She stops weaving her stars, and the universe falls into complete darkness. The Jade Emperor casts a spell, causing the Silver River to change its course to become a barrier between the two lovers, creating Night and Day. He now allows the two lovers to be reunited only once a year. The Silver River is a juxtaposition of Chinese opera traditions with Western sensibilities through its score and libretto.
This new production conceived by Bright Sheng, David Hwang and Ong Keng Sen performed at the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2002. It premiered at Spoleto Festival USA in May 2000 and subsequently toured to Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia in 2001. It was last presented by University Musical Society at the Power Center Michigan in 2006.