John Adams: Girls of the Golden West

John Adams: Girls of the Golden West

John Adams’ opera Girls of the Golden West (2017) goes back in time to the California Gold Rush (1848-55) for its subject matter. Adams paints a raw, deromanticized picture of the period. Drunkenness, prostitution, murder, racism, misogyny, and economic exploitation all feature in the action, in a libretto by Peter Sellars which draws on contemporary songs and letters, with dashes of Shakespeare and Mark Twain thrown in. Adams’ music has a sharp, restless energy entirely befitting the Gold Rush era. The lusty miners’ choruses are a highlight, dark energies roiling beneath their surface bonhomie and bluster. Tenor Paul Appleby’s account of Joe Cannon’s Act I song is similarly edged with angst, and soprano Hye Jung Lee delivers a searing account of the troubled prostitute Ah Sing’s aria. John Adams himself leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a riveting performance, which raises as many questions about the America of today as it does about its past.

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