11/7/2017 11:06:00 AM New opera examines California Gold Rush
NEW YORK (AP) — Move over Puccini, and make way for the Girls.
A new opera by American composer John Adams aims to tell the true story of California’s Gold Rush, capturing the excitement but also the greed, brutality and racism that followed the quest for instant riches as prospectors from all over the world flocked to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1850s.
Premiering at the San Francisco Opera on Nov. 21, the work is titled “Girls of the Golden West,” a twist on Puccini’s 1910 opera, “Girl of the Golden West” (“La Fanciulla del West” in the original Italian), which offered a heavily romanticized view of the period.
As usual with Adams in recent years, his collaborator is Peter Sellars, who created the libretto entirely from original sources — letters, diaries, songs and speeches — and also will direct.
The “Girls” are three women of diverse backgrounds, two of them actual historical figures. One is Louise Clappe (sung by soprano Julia Bullock), an Easterner who moved to California with her doctor-husband and documented life in the mining camps in a series of letters under the pseudonym Dame Shirley. Those letters form the backbone of Sellars’ libretto.
The second historical character is a Mexican-American woman named Josefa (mezzo J’Nai Bridges), who was hanged in Downieville in 1851. The third Girl is a composite, a Chinese prostitute given the name Ah Sing (coloratura Hye Jung Lee). Others in the cast include tenor Paul Groves and baritone Ryan McKinny as miners. Grant Gershon will conduct.
Adams told the Associated Press, “I have very strong feelings about California. I’ve lived there for over 40 years, and I have this shack high up in Sierra mountains. ... I like the idea of an updated work which tells the story through the voices of the real people with our contemporary consciousness of what really went on during that time. ... Much of the opera is upbeat, kind of funny and entertaining, and it’s only as it goes along that we suddenly feel events getting out of control.”