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Inheritance – A Chamber Opera

America's complicated relationship with guns is our Inheritance.

The Latest Update

Can Engaging with Contemporary Social Issues Save the Opera? – Next City

Posted on November 26, 2018 by Susan Narucki

Inheritance was one of several focal points in M. Sophia Newman’s article for Next City, a nonprofit organization  with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world.  Can contemporary social issues save the opera?  asks the broader question of how opera engages with the contemporary and cultural landscape as the genre evolves in the 21st century.

“…Meanwhile, on the West Coast, opera is taking an even more socially-engaged turn. From Oct. 24 to 27, a group at University of California San Diego mounted “Inheritance,” a new opera about Sarah Winchester, inheritor of the Winchester rifle company fortune and owner of a house said to be haunted by people killed with that brand of firearms.

Producer Susan Narucki says the idea was “to try to find a way to have the past speak to the present” by juxtaposing scenes from Winchester’s life with those of a modern school shooting. Co-creators Narucki, Lei Liang, Ligia Bouton, and Matt Donovan aimed for what she called “work that can be very disturbing and very provocative” to communicate horror at gun violence.

“It’s not the same thing as going to the Met,” Narucki says about the spectator experience, describing an intergenerational audience with “a lot of people who I don’t think have been to the opera before.” Although the formal program extended no farther than the opera itself, Narucki notes that “people stayed afterward in the performance space for about an hour to talk … They didn’t want to leave.”

“Inheritance” is the second opera Narucki has helped create at UCSD. The first, 2017’s “Cuatro Corridos,” was an opera for which she performed the lead roles in four vignettes anchored by “corridos,” songs in a particular Mexican folk style. The scenes depicted a series of perspectives on sex trafficking and sexual slavery — an issue of particular significance in San Diego, where many women trafficked from Tijuana cross the border.

Liang, who also composed one section of “Cuatro Corridos,” describes her aspiration to work with “issues that matter today, issues that are difficult to deal with, urgent and challenging.”

The entire article is a wonderful read and quite thought provoking – we are delighted to be a part of the conversation. 







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Inheritance – world premiere performances

Posted on October 28, 2018 by Susan Narucki

Inheritance came to life during this past week, in three sold-out performances at UC San Diego.  After three years in the making, it was a privilege to bring the project to fruition.   Our website has a number of pieces that were written about the project and we are gratified that the project captured the imagination of so many people in our area. 

And yet on the day of the final performance, we learned of another tragic episode of gun violence in our country – this time in Pittsburgh, PA.  We can only hope that our national discourse will evolve and that citizens of this country can worship, go to school, and gather in peace. 

This is the end of this chapter of our project, but stay tuned for future developments.  We believe it’s just the beginning. 

The “Why” of Inheritance

Posted on October 16, 2018 by Susan Narucki

Our opera addresses a tough topic – random gun violence in American society – and we do it through placing the historical figure Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle Fortune, and scenes from contemporary American life side by side.  Here’s a short video about the WHY behind our project.


“Inheritance” opera – one of San Diego Union Tribune’s Top Ten Picks for Fall Classical Music

Posted on September 18, 2018 by Susan Narucki

We’re pleased to announce that “Inheritance” is one of ten classical music events to make the San Diego Union Tribune’s Top Ten Picks for Fall 2018.  Our opera, co-presented by the Department of Music at  UC San Diego and ArtPower has been chosen alongside events at the San Diego Symphony and La Jolla Music Society – we’re very proud to be in such distinguished company.  With music by Lei Liang and libretto by Matt Donovan, ” Inheritance”  features production design by Ligia Bouton, direction  by Cara Consilvio and musical direction by Steven Schick.   Soprano Susan Narucki serves in dual capacity, as producer of the production and creating the role of Sarah Winchester.   Stellar young singers sopranos Hillary Jean Young and Kirsten Wiest and baritone Josue Ceron complete the cast. 


Posted on September 16, 2018 by Susan Narucki

Our story

Inheritance is a multimedia chamber opera. Its main character is an historical figure, Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. We see her in the 1880’s, in late middle-age. She is haunted by the spirits of those who were killed by the rifles which gave her unimaginable wealth. She is advised by a medium that she can keep the spirits at bay by building a house; as long as the house is under construction, the ghosts will not find her. She did so and constructed a mansion with layer upon layer of opulence. Whether or not the story is simply a myth, the house stands today and is a tourist attraction. It has one hundred rooms, cupboards one inch deep, stairways that lead nowhere.

Sarah Winchester also mourned the loss of her daughter, Annie, who died as an infant. She turns over the brief time they shared together, imagining that the child experienced wonder, awe and love. After decades, the loss is as real as if it had happened yesterday.

Our opera juxtaposes the struggle of the central character with events from contemporary American life: increasing gun violence and its effects upon the lives of innocents. When Lei Liang, Matt Donovan, Ligia Bouton and I first began talking about this opera in 2015, school shootings were still able to shock us all. Now rhetoric about arming teachers is commonplace; students are forced to protest en masse demand a safe environment in which to learn and grow.

Our opera places the past and the present side by side; in it, Sarah Winchester is transformed through her contact with our living present, breaking through the past to pose this question: “When will this repeat no more?”

-Susan Narucki,   September 15, 2018

San Diego City Beat – Fall Arts Preview

Posted on September 13, 2018 by Susan Narucki

San Diego City Beat – Fall Arts Preview

‘Inheritance’ examines gun violence via a multimedia chamber opera

New production examining the life of Sarah Winchester to make local debut at UC San Diego

by Jeff Terich

pera is an art form steeped in tragedy. Suicide. Infidelity. Tuberculosis. Murderous, cuckolded clowns. Yet it’s not often that those narratives stretch beyond the stage and into the long-term socio-political implications of those tragedies.  

Inheritance—a multimedia chamber opera being staged Oct. 24, 26 and 27 at UC San Diego’s Prebys Experimental Theater—is a work whose composers seek to change that approach. With music composed by Lei Liang and libretto (text) by Matt Donovan—led by music director Steven Schick and featuring soprano Susan Narucki—Inheritance spotlights America’s epidemic of gun violence via the story of Sarah Winchester. The widow of William Wirt Winchester, whose namesake was one of the earliest mass-produced repeating rifles, Sarah Winchester became famous for construction of the Winchester Mystery House, a curious estate built to confuse the spirits that haunted her.

“In the opening scene, Sarah Winchester is already old, sitting in her house where she’s trying to trap the ghosts that haunt her,” Liang says of the production. “The music begins very dramatically. And these are sounds that only Sarah can hear. She’s haunted by the deaths caused by her late husband’s rifle.” 

This isn’t the first opera to address contemporary social issues from Liang and Narucki. The two artists previously worked together on Cuatro Corridos, an opera dealing with human trafficking that was nominated for a Latin Grammy award. Both of them have a similar outlook on opera, in that it should be able to transcend entertainment.

“We all share the idea that new music shouldn’t be separate from social issues,” Liang says. “It can serve the purpose of giving the voiceless a voice. “These issues are so urgent. We wanted to respond to them in a humane, sophisticated way.” 

Narucki adds, however, that the key to a successful modern opera is thinking outside of the expected norms. A performance that’s meant to be staged in a smaller venue, as Inheritance is, can open up more possibilities and thus more people hearing its message.

“Over the past five years, more and more people are figuring out how to create stories relevant to social issues that connect past and present,” Narucki says. “Opera’s been around for 500 years, and operas that are successful on a smaller scale are more fluid. Making every production to be heard in a 3,000-seat auditorium is not always financially viable.” 

Even though Inheritance isn’t being housed in a large auditorium, it’s still intended to leave an impact, not just because of its underlying message but because of its production. In addition to Narucki, the production features music performed by clarinetist Anthony Burr, bassist Mark Dresser, guitarist Pablo Gomez, harpsichordist Takae Onishi, and trumpeter Stephanie Richards, and art design by Ligia Bouton, including a backdrop of the famed Winchester Mystery House itself. 

The creators of Inheritance promise a multimedia experience that steps outside of what can be expected of an operatic production. But Narucki has her own specific hopes for what kind of impression the work leaves on the audience.

“If one person sees this and is moved to rethink possibilities of how we experience and interact with the world, then I think we’ve succeeded.” 


Conceived in late 2015 as a collaboration between composer Lei Liang, librettist Matt Donovan, artist Ligia Bouton and soprano Susan Narucki, Inheritance is a chamber opera that revolves around Sarah Winchester, the eccentric widow and heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune.  According to popular belief, Winchester imprisoned herself in her labyrinth-like home to seek refuge from the spirits of those killed by the same weapons whose manufacture and sale gave her a life of indescribable wealth.  The legends surrounding her life are impossible to extract from her actual history; to the collaborative team, the contradictions speak to America’s inability to separate fact and fiction in the contemporary debate about guns and gun violence.

Events in Winchester’s life – whether the stuff of legend or plain-spoken truth – are one aspect of Inheritance.  These episodes are juxtaposed with contemporary events, moments ripped from headlines that play out on grand platforms of news and social media, which seem to be interpreted differently in the eye of each beholder.  In this way, Inheritance seeks to explore America’s violent legacy and deeply complex relationship with guns.

With music by composer Lei Liang and libretto by poet Matt Donovan, Inheritance is a seventy minute work in one act for four voices and chamber ensemble.  Inheritance will be premiered in October, 24, 2018 at the Experimental Theater of the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UC San Diego with soprano/producer Susan Narucki in the role of Sarah Winchester.

Renowned conductor and percussionist Steven Schick will lead an ensemble of virtuoso musicians, including clarinetist Anthony Burr, bassist Mark Dresser, guitarist Pablo Gomez, harpsichordist Takae Onishi,and trumpeter Stephanie Richards.  Stage director Cara Consilvio directs the production that features multimedia design by artist Ligia Bouton.

Performances of the opera will be coupled with public discussion in collaboration with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego.  The opera will be recorded for CD and video release following the production.

Inheritance  has earned major grants from the Creative Capital Foundation (2016) the University of California at San Diego (2017), the UC San Diego Department of Music, and the National Endowment for the Arts (2017).  In 2018, Inheritance earned a grant from New Music USA.  Inheritance is a co-presentation of ArtPower and the Department of Music at UC San Diego

Project Media

“Rose” – Scene Three of Cuatro Corridos, a chamber opera
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Cuatro Corridos is a chamber opera that addresses human trafficking across the U.S. Mexican border. In the third scene, Rose, a policewoman, is reading a statement to the press about the capture and arrest of the Salazar Juarez trafficking ring. She begins by stating the facts of the case and describing the raid in which she and her fellow officers liberated nineteen Mexican women. But then, she challenges her listeners: “Do you ask yourselves, gentlemen, what till happen to these women?”

2016 Bridge Records. Info: www.cuatrocorridos.com

Xiaoxiang – Saxophone Concerto (Lei Liang)
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Features: Lei Liang

This concerto focuses on a Chinese villager whose husband was killed by a local official during the Cultural Revolution. Without the means to seek justice, she decided to take revenge by wailing like a ghost in the forest every evening. Months later, both the official and the woman went insane.
Inheritance will include similar sounds that serve as active forces, haunting and conversing with Sarah Winchester, like the unseen spirits who haunt her mansion, engaging in dialogue with her and serving as reminders of her own complex grief.

Start and End Dates



San Diego, California

6 updates
Last update on November 26, 2018

Project Created By

San Diego, California
For over three decades, American soprano Susan Narucki has forged a unique path; her dedication to the music of our time has led to award winning recordings, critically acclaimed performances with musicians of the first rank and close collaborations with generations of composers.  Since joining the faculty at the University of California at San Diego…

In Collaboration With

San Diego, California
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Production Designer
Santa Fe, New Mexico


One response to “Inheritance – A Chamber Opera”

  1. Karole Foreman says:

    Absolutely love this body of work you are creating and producing.

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