On November 21, San Francisco Opera will present the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, the newest opera by American composer John Adams. With a libretto drawn from historical sources by director Peter Sellars, Girls of the Golden West explores the true stories of pioneers on California’s Gold Rush frontier during the 1850s.
2017 marks John Adams’ 70th birthday year and performances of the composer’s works for the concert and opera house stages have been presented around the world. Girls of the Golden West, which Adams began composing in June 2015 and completed this summer, is the culmination of these celebrations. Created expressly for San Francisco Opera and initiated by former General Director David Gockley, Girls of the Golden West is a co-commission and co-production with the Dallas Opera and the Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam. The opera is also the latest collaboration between the Company and Adams, which also includes productions of Adams’ Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic.
A California resident, Adams said: “I have a cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from where these events in the opera took place. I know the terrain. I have hiked through those valleys and along those hillsides. This is home to me. Not many composers can hope to be as lucky as I to have this connection to the historical reality.”
Girls of the Golden West transpires in the historic mining camps of Rich Bar and Downieville during California’s transition from territory to American statehood, a period which coincided with the Gold Rush and its unprecedented migration of people from around the world attracted by the prospect of striking it rich in the region’s gold fields. Sellars’ libretto draws from sources illuminating multiple perspectives of this global event, including the California history classic The Shirley Letters, a collection of 23 letters by Louise Clappe penned under the name “Dame Shirley” describing the rugged conditions and clash of cultures in the gold mining camps from 1851 to 1852; the diary of Chilean miner Ramón Gil Navarro; memoirs of fugitive slaves; poems of Chinese immigrants; the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni; Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”; gold miner songs; and Mark Twain’s Roughing It.
Reflecting on the primary sources that comprise the libretto for Girls of the Golden West, Sellars commented: “The true stories of the forty-niners are overwhelming in their heroism, passion, and cruelty, telling tales of racial conflicts, colorful and humorous exploits, political strife and struggles to build anew a life and to decide what it would mean to be American.”
Sung in English with English supertitles, Girls of the Golden West is scheduled for eight performances at the War Memorial Opera House: November 21 (7:30 p.m.), November 24 (7:30 p.m.), November 26 (2 p.m.), November 29 (7:30 p.m.); December 2 (7:30 p.m.), December 5 (7:30 p.m.), December 7 (7:30 p.m.) and December 10 (2 p.m.), 2017.
– Girls of the Golden West Insight Panel, November 9
San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Guild present a rare glimpse into the creative process that goes into bringing this exciting new work to life on the War Memorial Opera House stage. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock moderates a lively discussion about Girls of the Golden West with librettist and director Peter Sellars, conductor Grant Gershon, and cast members J’Nai Bridges, Julia Bullock, Hye Jung Lee, Paul Appleby, Elliot Madore, Ryan McKinny and Davóne Tines that will be followed by a Q&A session. The Insight Panel is free for San Francisco Opera members and students with a valid student ID; $5 for the general public. Pre-registration and tickets are available via ; tickets also available at the door. For more information, visit .
– Girls of the Golden West Ancillary Events, Now through December 10
In support of the eagerly anticipated new work, San Francisco Opera and other leading cultural institutions have partnered to present an array of public events and exhibitions through December 10. Highlights of the Girls of the Golden West ancillary activities calendar include exhibitions of Gold Rush-era artifacts at The Society of California Pioneers and within the foyer of the War Memorial Opera House, a citywide book club for The Shirley Letters, a conversation about Dame Shirley with soprano Julia Bullock and historian Marlene Smith-Baranzini, preview lectures by Dr. Clifford “Kip” Cranna and Pre-Opera Talks by Kip Cranna, Peter Sellars and John Adams. September and October preview events with the opera’s creators, including a Works & Process discussion at the Guggenheim in New York and a public forum at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, are available online.
– OPERA HOUSE GOLD RUSH EXHIBIT, November 4–December 10, 2017
War Memorial Opera House foyer, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco