‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ opens to a full house at Scottsdale center

America’s cowboy culture and opera’s hallowed traditions converge in a documentary film


A documentary about the artistry behind Arizona Opera’s electrifying new opera, Riders of the Purple Sage, celebrated its world premiere at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 5.

The event was hosted by Scottsdale’s Museum of the West with partners Quantum Leap Productions, Arizona Opera, and Honorary Chairs and Executive Producers Billie Jo and Judd Herberger. Sponsors include Castle Hot Springs, Arizona’s first resort.

The opera Riders of the Purple Sage marks an unprecedented collaboration between the work of author Zane Grey (1872-1939), American composer Craig Bohmler and librettist Steven Mark Kohn, and Arizona’s “visual poet laureate,” painter Ed Mell.

In 2012 Mr. Bohmler discovered Zane Grey’s most famous novel when he ducked into the Zane Grey Cabin Museum in Payson to escape a thunderstorm, according to a press release.

Five years later, the musical adaptation of Mr. Grey’s beloved Western celebrated its world premiere as a fully staged grand opera with a state-of-the-art set designed by one of America’s preeminent landscape painters.

Since Mr. Grey’s novel was published in 1912, Riders of the Purple Sage has been translated into 20 languages, made into five Hollywood movies, and earned a spot on the Library of Congress list of “One Hundred Books that Shaped America.” Mr. Grey’s fondness for the Grand Canyon State, which he frequently referred to as “my beloved Arizona,” inspired the settings and characters for many of his novels.

The opera is the first time Mr. Grey’s work has been adapted for the live stage.
“An opera as monumental and well-crafted as Riders of the Purple Sage, can now lay claim to a rightful place in the canon of works about the American West,” said Broadway World in its review. “Riders is literally and figuratively blazing new trails, demonstrating the relevance and value of the age-old genre.”

Joseph Specter, president and general director of Arizona Opera, says, “Riders of the Purple Sage absolutely transformed our organization and our community’s perception of our art form. We’re proud and honored to have a documentary of this caliber capture the creation of Arizona Opera’s first world premiere as we mount the first revival of Riders on our Main Stage this season.”

Scottsdale’s Museum of the West presented the documentary during Western Week 2020, which culminated with Parada Del Sol.

Michael J. Fox, director and CEO of the “Western Spirit” museum says, “Our mission is to immerse people in the unique story of the West. The Riders documentary captures a powerful chapter in our regional history and the lasting impact of artists who have expanded the narrative from Old West to the New West.”

Mounting the opera brought together Arizona Opera, ASU’s Herberger Institute, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, Classical Arizona/PBS, and Zane Grey’s West Society. Film collaborators include Arizona Community Foundation, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Zane Grey Cabin Museum, the Navajo Nation, and the National Park Service.

“The opera, Riders of the Purple Sage, and the documentary are rare projects that create synergy between organizations,” said Jennifer E. Sands, trustee of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West and co-executive producer of the film.

The documentary is produced by Quantum Leap Productions and shot on location in Arizona and at OPERA America’s National Opera Center in New York City.