Girls of the Golden West, the highly anticipated opera by John Adams has its premiere tomorrow night at San Francisco Opera. It’s got a libretto assembled by Peter Sellars from original source material – letters, memoirs, diaries, newspaper accounts – and tells of the difficult life among the camps during the Gold Rush. Conductor Grant Gershon will be leading the performances, and says the sense of place is strong from the opening measures.

There’s more information about the performances, which run through December 10, at San Francisco Opera‘s website.

This has already been a banner year for Adams, with celebrations of his 70th birthday happening all over the country. Gershon says that this new opera will stand with his other achievements. “Each piece of John’s creates its own universe. And this piece, Girls of the Golden West, is really like nothing else that he’s written before. It feels to me like his imagination was particularly excited by the idea of setting an opera in California, and in the Gold Rush country.” Since moving from the East to California like ‘Dame Shirley,’ whose journals provide some of the libretto, John Adams has spent a lot of time in the area depicted in his new work, and that setting is felt immediately. “Right from the very first bars,” Gershon explains, “when we meet this miner named Clarence, and Clarence’s first lines of text are actually written by Mark Twain, from one of his first books called Roughing It. And he talks about, ‘It was a peerless population,’ all these people coming together into Gold Rush country…  The first things that you hear is the full orchestra with this very regular beat, and cowbell on top of it. And so you immediately know, that you’re not in Vienna, you’re right here in Northern California.”

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