About the opera

Conceived in 2015, Inheritance is a chamber opera that revolves around Sarah Winchester, the eccentric widow and heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune.  According to popular belief, she 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.  With music by composer Lei Liang and libretto by poet Matt Donovan, Inheritance juxtaposes elements of Winchester’s biography with contemporary events in a work that explores America’s deeply complex relationship with guns Visual artist Ligia Bouton creates the production design and Susan Narucki serves as producer of the opera and creates the role of Sarah Winchester.

Music director Steven Schick  will lead the world premiere performances in a staging by innovative young stage director Cara Consilvio, with lighting design by Mary Ellen Stebbins. The seventy-five minute work has a cast of four, including sopranos Hillary Jean Young and Kirsten Ashley Wiest, along with Mexican baritone Josué Ceron. It is scored for chamber ensemble of eight virtuoso musicians. Inheritance will be premiered on October 24, 2018 at the Experimental Theater of the Conrad Prebys Music Center at the UC San Diego.

Inheritance is supported by the Creative Capital Foundation, the University of California at San Diego, the UC San Diego Department of Music, UC San Diego Division of Arts and Humanities, New Music USA and the National Endowment for the Arts.  It is a co-presentation of ArtPower and the UC San Diego Department of Music

October 16, 2018


Director Cara Consilvio, composer Lei Liang and producer/soprano Susan Narucki discuss the impetus behind the “Inheritance” opera project.

September 27, 2018

UC San DIEGO NEWS CENTER - CHAMBER OPERA Addressing GUN violence to receive world premiere at UC San Diego

By Anthony King - Grammy Award-winning soprano Susan Narucki, “Inheritance” uses legendary story of Sarah Winchester to spark discussion about guns in today’s culture.

Produced by Grammy Award-winning soprano and Department of Music faculty member Susan Narucki presents the world-premiere chamber opera “Inheritance” at UC San Diego, using the legendary story of Sarah Winchester to address gun violence in the United States.

Narucki will portray Winchester, the eccentric widow and rifle-company heir who was self-imprisoned in her California mansion, haunted by the spirits of those killed by the firearms that made her family’s fortune. “Inheritance” interweaves Winchester’s story with events from contemporary life, asking complex questions about complicity, atonement and gun control in our society.


September 16, 2018

Inheritance - A top ten pick in San Diego u-T Fall Arts Preview

San Diego Union Tribune Arts Writer Beth Wood lists Inheritance as a pick of the Fall Arts Season. We are honored to be listed alongside some of San Diego’s premiere arts venues and organizations. Tickets for the October 24, 2018 premiere are on sale now.

September 12, 2018

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, San Diego City Beat

Opera 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.” 

July 23, 2018


Tickets to the  October 24, 2018 world premiere of Inheritance by Lei Liang and Matt Donovan are on sale now through ARTPower, UC San Diego's campus arts presenter.  Billed as one of four season special events, Inheritance will have a run of three performances in the intimate Experimental Theater of the Conrad Prebys Music Center on the UC San Diego campus.  For more information and to order ticke

June 17, 2018

San Diego Union Tribune - ArtPower to traverse wide world of music, dance and much more in 15th season at UCSD 

"......At least a few of the performances in the upcoming season will offer social commentary about the world in general and the state of this nation specifically. One of them is the premiere of “Inheritance,” a multimedia chamber opera about gun violence that features music by Lei Liang and a libretto by Matt Donovan. Steven Schick will serve as its music director while soprano Susan Narucki, the driving force behind “Inheritance,” will be the featured singer. (Liang, Schick and Narucki are all professors at UCSD.)"  Read the article by George Varga.


June 1, 2018

"Inheritance" Awarded New Music USA Project grant

New Music USA announced today its eighth round of project grants, totaling $530,000 in funding to support artistic work involving a wide range of new American music. The 108 awarded projects include concerts and recordings, as well as support for dance, theater, opera, and more, all involving contemporary music as an essential element. Of the newly awarded projects, 44% feature people of color and 63% feature female or non-binary project organizers or main collaborators.  Inheritance was among the recipients of this prestigious and competitive award. 

The overarching goal of project grants is to reach and aggregate the communities of new music enthusiasts, irrespective of genre preferences, and allow the public to discover new artistic work.

To follow the project as it unfolds, visit our project page:  https://newmusicusa.org/projects/Inheritance-a-chamber-opera

About the team

Inheritance brings together award-winning creative and performing artists in a unique artist-led collaborative model.  The team seeks to create a contemporary chamber opera of high artistic value that will speak an an issue of critical importance in contemporary American society. 

How did the Inheritance opera project come about?  Composer Lei Liang, librettist Matt Donovan and artist Ligia Bouton met in Italy, while Lei and Matt they were both recipients of the 2011 Rome Prize, in Composition and Literature, respectively.  The opera is a continuation of work that soprano/producer Susan Narucki has begun in creating operas that speak to contemporary social issues, and collaborated with Lei Liang on her 2013 project Cuatro Corridos. Both have longstanding collaborations with conductor Steven Schick.   Learn more about the individuals who have brought this unique opera to life.

More about the Inheritance residency at the Leighton Artists Colony