Land of Gold

Jon Else and John Adams
Past event


Presented as part of the LA Phil’s Humanities programming, Land of Gold, a documentary film by Jon Else about the making of John Adams’ opera, Girls of the Golden West, takes audiences into the rehearsal rooms and behind the scenes of the opera’s premiere production in San Francisco in 2017. With direction and a libretto by Peter Sellars, Girls of the Golden West brings true stories of the California Gold Rush to life by rejecting the whitewashed romantic view of California in the early days of the Gold Rush and highlights the heroism, passion, racial conflicts, love, cruelty, and truth during one of the most significant events in American history. Land of Gold captures the process of bringing this revisionist and corrective take on American history to life with insights from Adams and Sellars as well as first cast members Julia Bullock, Paul Appleby, and J’Nai Bridges.


The program includes a post-screening talk with Jon Else and John Adams, moderated by Sarah Cahill.

With dozens of hours of rehearsal footage to whittle and refine…they created a film that captures moments of arresting beauty.

Andrew Gilbert, Berkeleyside

Presented in collaboration with LA Phil.

The LA Phil’s Humanities programs are generously supported by Linda and David Shaheen.

about the artists

John Adams

Composer, conductor, and creative thinker John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, their brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Over the past 40 years, Adams’ music has played a decisive role in turning the tide of contemporary musical aesthetics away from academic modernism and toward a more expansive, expressive language, entirely characteristic of his New World surroundings.

Works spanning more than three decades have entered the repertoire and are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music, among them Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, Chamber Symphony, Absolute Jest, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and his violin concerto. His stage works, in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, include Girls of the Golden West (2017), Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), El Nino (2000), Doctor Atomic (2005), A Flowering Tree (2006), and the Passion oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012).


Jon Else

Jon Else is an American documentary filmmaker and professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He directs the documentary program. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Else moved west for college. He earned a BA (English, 1968) from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA (Communication, 1974) from Stanford University. He directed and produced major documentaries beginning in 1980, with one about the work during World War II at Los Alamos in developing and testing the atomic bomb. Another was about the Exploratorium. In 1987, he made a documentary about the civil rights movement from 1954-1965, based on the history of the same name, Eyes on the Prize. In 1988, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1988.