At the Opera: A People's History of the Gold Rush

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J'Nai Bridges as Josefa Segovia and Elliot Madore as Ramón in rehearsal for Girls of the Golden West (Photo: Stefan Cohen/SF Opera)

Berkeley composer John Adams and director/writer Peter Sellars are old hands at opera as contemporary history, including Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic. Now they're looking further back in time, to the California gold rush, in the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West at San Francisco Opera. This is a revisionist history of the era that focuses on the wives and the prostitutes in the gold camps, the wagon driver who’s a runaway slave, the Californians who lost everything when the US annexed the state, plus stories about vigilante injustice and racism. Sellars has drawn the libretto from historical sources, and he told me certainly it's a story about the past, but also the present.

"We’re here in a new gold rush in Silicon Valley," Sellars said, "with astounding fortunes made overnight. And meanwhile, the politics of who has how much citizenship, and how economic participation has been organized, all those things are completely to the point of the moment."

My co-host Jamedra Brown Fleischman wondered if it would be appropriate to wear a pussy hat to see this show. I think Adams and Sellars would say that was the perfect headgear, even at the San Francisco Opera. Details here.