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Adams: Girls of the Golden West

  • Pre-order today!

  • Full album available on CD and streaming April 26, 2024.

  • Recorded live at Walt Disney Concert Hall in January 2023.

  • Listen to a preview track at the link below.

Girls of the Golden West is a California opera, telling the story of the Gold Rush not through familiar time-worn myth, but in the words and deeds of real people – as Mark Twain described them: “the strangest population, the finest population … who ever trooped down the startled solitudes of an unpeopled land.”

Longtime Adams collaborator Peter Sellars drew from original sources from the Gold Rush era – letters, journals, newspaper articles, and familiar song lyrics – to create the libretto. As Sellars has said, “These true stories of the Forty-Niners are overwhelming in their heroism, passion, and cruelty, telling tales of racial conflicts, colorful and humorous exploits, political strife and struggles to build new life.” Responding to these incidents, Adams’ propulsive music captures all the conflicting emotions with his characteristic insight.

The composer himself leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in this live recording from Walt Disney Concert Hall, which also features the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a cast led by Julia Bullock, Davóne Tines, Paul Appleby, Hye Jung Lee, Elliot Madore, Daniela Mack, and Ryan McKinny.

Girls of the Golden West may be my most personal of all stage creations,” Adams says. “Like the characters in its story, I too am a kind of California immigrant, having arrived here from Massachusetts in my early twenties, much the same age as many of those who came in here search of gold … For forty 40 years I have hiked those same mountains, sometimes stumbling on the remains of an old shaft dug into the side of a steep ravine. And I too share the same sense of awe and appreciation that Dame Shirley so perfectly evokes in the opera’s very last moment — for the fathomless splendor and ‘never-enough-to-be-talked-about sky of California.’”

In the recording’s liner note, Jake Wilder-Smith adds, “Adams’ score [highlights] the profane humor and mawkish sentimentality of the Gold Rush songs that he incorporates throughout the opera, which rise to almost sublime heights in his high-octane and inventive settings of the songs. During the Gold Rush, these lyrics were sung to the tune of recycled melodies from Stephen Foster standbys like ‘Camptown Races’ or ‘Oh! Susanna.’ Now, set anew to music that is pure, unadulterated Adams, they release a static charge long dormant within them; the resulting sparks and flares contribute to the opera’s electric energy.”

“I set these raunchy and vivid song lyrics to my own music. ” Adams says. “Sung by the male chorus, they provide much of the gusto in the opera, sometimes effervescent, and at other times genuinely disturbing in a way that was brought home to me five years later when I watched on television the fury of the January 6th Capitol attack in Washington.”


This recording is generously supported by the Lenore S. and Bernard A. Greenberg Fund.

Girls of the Golden West is available for preview and pre-order at these destinations: 

Featured Artists: 

Los Angeles Philharmonic   
John Adams, conductor 

Libretto compiled from original sources by Peter Sellars 

Julia Bullock, Dame Shirley (soprano) 
Davóne Tines, Ned Peters (bass-baritone) 
Paul Appleby, Joe Cannon (tenor) 
Hye Jung Lee, Ah Sing (soprano) 
Elliot Madore, Ramón (baritone) 
Daniela Mack, Josefa Segovia (mezzo-soprano) 
Ryan McKinny, Clarence King (bass-baritone) 

Los Angeles Master Chorale 
Grant Gershon, Artistic Director 
Jenny Wong, Associate Artistic Director 

Track Listing


1. (Scene 1) “It was a driving, vigorous, restless population”

2. (Scene 1) Wagon Ride: “Ned Peters was a hustler”

3. (Scene 2) “My name is Joe”

4. (Scene 2) “Now he consoles himself”

5. (Scene 3) “A gambler’s life I do admire”

6. (Scene 3) “Josefa, you remember”

7. (Scene 4) “It’s bone, it’s backbone”

8. (Scene 4) “Comin’ up from Red Dog”


1. (Scene 1) “The Raven”

2. (Scene 2) The attack on the Mexicans

3. (Scene 3) “It seems like midnight”

4. (Scene 3) “What is this celebration to me?”

5. (Scene 4) “This very nearly was the cause”

6. (Scene 4) “Ven esta noche”

7. (Scene 4) “Blessed and praised”

8. (Scene 4) “I’m going far away from my creditors”

9. (Scene 5) The Downieville mob

10. (Scene 5) “Tú me quieres alba”

11. (Scene 5) “It’s four long years” (Lousy Miner)

12. Epilogue “Sometimes I lounge forlornly to the window”

Critical Acclaim 

“There should be no doubt that Girls of the Golden West is the most powerful opera of the moment.”          

— Los Angeles Times 

Girls is an outright rejection of the romantic West of Puccini, of the hubris of Manifest Destiny, of all the rosy myths you’ve heard about the Golden State. It is revisionist — or, rather, corrective — American history, a tale of men turning feral as they swarmed California like an invasive species. In many ways, it is also an opera about the present.”   

— The New York Times 

About the Composer:  

Composer, conductor, and creative thinker John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.  

Among Adams’ works are several of the most performed contemporary classical pieces today: Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, Chamber Symphony, Absolute Jest, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and his Violin Concerto. His stage works, many in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, include Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic, A Flowering Tree, the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and Girls of the Golden West. Adams’ most recent opera, Antony and Cleopatra, featuring a libretto adapted by the composer from Shakespeare’s tragedy, received its European premiere at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in fall 2023 in a production directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer and conducted by Adams. This season, Adams’ Frenzy for orchestra receives its world premiere with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, who tour the work to multiple cities in Europe. 

Adams is the 2019 recipient of the Erasmus Prize “for notable contributions to European culture, society and social science”—the only American composer to be so honored in the prize’s 61-year history. As an advocate of his composer colleagues, Adams has conducted the premieres of more than 100 new works ranging from composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Wolfgang Rihm, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon to works by young emerging composers. He received the 2021 Ditson Conductor’s Award from Columbia University in recognition of his “exceptional commitment to American composers.” Adams has additionally received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Cambridge, and The Juilliard School. Since 2009, he has held the position of Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A provocative writer, he is author of the acclaimed autobiography Hallelujah Junction. His writings have appeared in both The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review. 

As a conductor of his own works and wide variety of repertoire, Adams has appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, the New York Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the orchestras of Seattle, Cleveland, and Rotterdam. In 2022, Nonesuch Records released the forty-disc John Adams Collected Works, a box set of recordings spanning more than four decades of the composer’s career with the label. 

About the Librettist:   

Peter Sellars has gained international renown for his groundbreaking and transformative interpretations of classics, advocacy of 20th-century and contemporary music, and collaborative projects with an extraordinary range of creative and performing artists. He has staged operas at the Dutch National Opera, English National Opera, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Opéra National de Paris, Salzburg Festival, and San Francisco Opera.  

Sellars has collaborated on the creation of many works with composer John Adams, including Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and Girls of the Golden West. He has guided the creation of premiere productions of Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin, Adriana Mater, and Only the Sound Remains, and staged works by Olivier Messiaen, Gyorgy Ligeti, Paul Hindemith, Osvaldo Golijov, and Tan Dun.  

Recent productions include Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and Idomeneo for the Salzburg Festival, Vivier’s Kopernikus in Paris, and Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Centre. Sellars has staged di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro and Schütz’ Musikalische Exequien for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. In 2022, he staged the Roman de Fauvel at the Théâtre du Chatelet and created a production of composer Tyshawn Sorey’s Monochromatic Light (Afterlife) with artwork by Julie Mehretu at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. 

Watch and Listen: