Composer John Adams' 'Girls of the Golden West' Portrays Dark Underbelly of Gold Rush Era

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Composer John Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West” explores gender and racial tension during the California Gold Rush. It plays the San Francisco Opera through Dec. 10. (Photo: Deborah O'Grady)

The sound of fortune-hunters’ pickaxes digging for gold in 1850s California marks the opening scene of “Girls of the Golden West” by composer John Adams. In creating the opera, Adams and librettist Peter Sellars drew heavily on the letters of a doctor’s wife, Louise Clappe, who exposed the brutality toward women and ethnic tensions that broiled under the optimism of the Gold Rush. Adams joins us in-studio to discuss “Girls of the Golden West,” which plays the San Francisco Opera through mid-December.

John Adams, composer, “Girls of the Golden West”

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