SFOpera - In Celebration of the World Premiere of John Adams' <i>Girls of the Golden West</i>, San Francisco Opera Partners with Cultural Institutions to Present an Array of Events and Exhibitions

In Celebration of the World Premiere of John Adams' Girls of the Golden West, San Francisco Opera Partners with Cultural Institutions to Present an Array of Events and Exhibitions

Release date: 9/13/2017    


Enrichment Opportunites Exploring the Opera and its Historical Setting in the California Gold Rush Include an All-Day Symposium on October 28 at the Taube Atrium Theater

World Premiere of Girls of the Golden West, November 21–December 10, War Memorial Opera House 

Girls of the Golden West - Ancillary Events.pdf  Photos Available 

San Francisco Opera announces educational events in connection with John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, which receives its world premiere at the War Memorial Opera House on November 21. With a libretto drawn from historical sources by director Peter Sellars, this new work from the composer of Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic explores the true and often brutal stories of pioneers on California’s Gold Rush frontier.

In support of the premiere, “the most eagerly anticipated new opera of the season” (New York Times), San Francisco Opera and other leading cultural institutions will present an array of public events and exhibitions from September through December, including “Works & Process” previews at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and a multidisciplinary symposium at San Francisco’s Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera. Girls of the Golden West ancillary activities range from discussions with the opera’s creators and cast to examinations of the work’s rich historical setting and sources, especially 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.

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock said, “I am so excited by the fact that the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West is happening right here in San Francisco, just 200 miles from the mining camps of the High Sierra. We want this work to be a lens through which the community can engage in our region’s rich and tumultuous history. We are delighted to be collaborating with a number of Gold Rush authorities, historical organizations and the opera’s creators in presenting an extensive schedule of public engagement opportunities surrounding Girls of the Golden West, opportunities that we hope will allow people to delve deep into this extraordinary new work.


As part of its Works & Process series, the New York Guggenheim will host previews of Girls of the Golden West on September 21 and 22 in the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Peter B. Lewis Theater. In an evening of conversation and music, composer John Adams and librettist/director Peter Sellars will discuss their newest collaboration with San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and set designer David Gropman. Musical selections from the new opera will be performed by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and soprano Hye Jung Lee, accompanied by pianist John Churchwell. Bridges and Lee are both members of the world premiere cast and will perform the roles of Josefa Segovia and Ah Sing, respectively.


The Girls of the Golden West and Gold Rush Symposium on October 28 in the Taube Atrium Theater at the Wilsey Center for Opera will offer opportunities for enrichment and deeper engagement with the opera and its historical setting during the California Gold Rush. This all-day forum of inquiry and discovery will include scholarly lectures, roundtable discussions and musical performances. Check-in begins at 9 a.m. and is followed by a morning session conversation with composer John Adams,librettist/director Peter Sellars and San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock about Girls of the Golden West.

Symposium sessions will also feature historians and experts discussing a range of topics, from the role of women during the Gold Rush to cultural conflicts in the mining communities. San Francisco Opera Dramaturg Kip Cranna moderates discussions with Gary Kamiya (author and San Francisco historian), Mark McLaughlin (author and geographer), Christopher O’Sullivan (Adjunct Professor, San Francisco State), Marlene Smith-Baranzini (“Dame Shirley” expert and annotator of The Shirley Letters) and Mary Volmer (writer and St. Mary’s College faculty). The symposium concludes with a musical history of the era, featuring performances of original miner and pioneer songs performed by Theatre Comique led by pianist Corey Jamason.


A myriad of Girls of the Golden West supplementary activities will be offered in collaboration with cultural and educational institutions around the Bay Area. On October 30, the Commonwealth Club will feature Peter Sellars and Matthew Shilvock in conversation about the new opera with Anne Smith, co-chair of the Commonwealth Club’s Arts Forum. This public event and podcast will be held at the San Francisco institution’s new permanent home at 110 The Embarcadero along the downtown waterfront.

“I hope this finds you well”: Letters from the California Gold Rush, an exhibition of historic first-hand accounts of the Gold Rush written on illustrated letter sheets, will be on view at The Society of California Pioneers in The Presidio from September 30 through December 17. Ongoing public exhibitions at the headquarters of Levi Strauss & Co. (1155 Battery Street; visit The Vault) and Wells Fargo (420 Montgomery Street) in downtown San Francisco provide further opportunities to learn about the history of California.

In a special collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library, The Shirley Letters—one of the key historical sources Adams and Sellars drew upon for the opera—will be the Library’s “On the Same Page” book club selection for November/December. Additionally, on November 28 the Main Library will host a free, public discussion about Dame Shirley with historical scholars and members of the Girls of the Golden West cast moderated by Kip Cranna.

Gold Rush-era artifacts from the collections of the California Historical Society, Levi Strauss & Co., Museum of Performance + Design and The Society of California Pioneers will be on view within the War Memorial Opera House foyer from November 4 through December 10. Items will include letter-sheets, textiles and garments, tools and other historical ephemera preserved by the Bay Area’s foremost historical institutions.

San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Guild will also present an Insight Panel discussion with the opera’s creators and members of the cast on November 9 at the Herbst Theatre and Opera Preview lectures offered by Guild Chapters around the Bay Area November 13–15. Company Dramaturg Kip Cranna will present pre-performance talks before each presentation of Girls of the Golden West at the War Memorial Opera House. After the final performance on December 10, a post-performance “On the Couch” discussion will be held at Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza to examine the opera from a psychoanalytic perspective.

San Francisco Opera has assembled an exceptional and diverse cast for the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, including Julia Bullock (Dame Shirley), Davóne Tines (Ned Peters), J’Nai Bridges (Josefa Segovia), Ryan McKinny (Clarence King), Paul Appleby (Joe Cannon), Hye Jung Lee (Ah Sing), Elliot Madore (Ramón), Lorena Feijóo (Lola Montez). Grant Gershon will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Peter Sellars directs the production, which features set designed by David Gropman, costumes by Rita Ryack, lighting by James F. Ingalls, sound design by Mark Grey and choreography by John Heginbotham. The opera is a co-production led by San Francisco Opera in partnership with The Dallas Opera and Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam.

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.

*For the complete press release, including calendar listing of ancillary events, please view the attached PDF.