This intense short documentary explores the deep roots of modern American excess through the prism of a John Adams and Peter Sellars’s new opera about the California Gold Rush.
This project is both very simple and very complicated, following two parallel story lines 150 years apart. The first is a cinema verite narrative racing from first rehearsal of “Girls of he Golden West” toward opening night at the San Francisco Opera in November, 2017. The composer, director, diverse cast and crew tackle a politically charged work that veers from madcap to scorching as they follow prim and proper “Dame Shirley” (soprano Julia Bullock), and resolute “Josefa Segovia” (mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges), two level-headed women among thousands of less than level-headed men in the 49ers’ stampede for wealth. Interwoven with this present-day theatrical romp is a second, epic historical tale, unfolding in the mining camps, constructed from documentary images of the period. Here we chronicle the often-ignored story of brutal collision between Native Americans, European swashbucklers, Californianos, freed slaves, Chinese, Mexican, and Yankee gold seekers thrown together in the explosive free-for-all of California’s first great bubble. As in Jon Else’s previous films “Sing Faster” and “Wonders Are Many,” the opera itself and the interlocking film stories are entirely fact-based.