“Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera.” America’s cowboy culture and opera’s hallowed traditions converge in a documentary film that celebrates the collaborative power of art.
Film Premiere • Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7:00 PM
Scottsdale, Ariz. Dec. 12, 2019, A documentary about the artistry behind Arizona Opera's electrifying new opera, Riders of the Purple Sage, will celebrate its world premiere at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts on February 5, 2020. The event is hosted by Scottsdale’s Museum of the West with partners Quantum Leap Productions, Arizona Opera, and Honorary Chairs and Executive Producers Billie Jo & 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 Bohmler discovered Zane Grey's most famous novel when he ducked into the Zane Grey Cabin Museum in Payson, Arizona to escape a thunderstorm. Five years later, the musical adaptation of 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 Zane 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."
The opera is the first time 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.”
Jane Withersteen’s ranch is the focus of a power struggle between a woman and her churchmen in “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Courtesy of Tim Trumble/Arizona Opera.
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 is delighted to present the documentary during Western Week 2020, which culminates 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.”
“The opera, Riders of the Purple Sage, and the documentary are rare projects that create synergy between organizations,” says Jennifer E. Sands, Trustee of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West and Co-Executive Producer of the film. 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 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.
Emmy Award-Winning filmmaker and Arizona native, director Kristin Atwell Ford, is fascinated by how the landscape is translated into art. “Riders is a provocative story of the settling of the West,” she says. “It’s our story told through the writing, music, and paintings of some of our nation’s finest artists. In centuries to come it will be known as Arizona’s distinct cultural contribution to the art form of opera. That’s what this film premiere celebrates.”
The film premieres at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 as a celebration of Arizona’s arts, culture, and community. A limited amount of tickets are available to the public for $18 each. Proceeds from the evening will support the film’s global distribution. You can also donate a ticket for a film student at the ASU’s Herberger Institute for $12. Tickets are available at the Scottsdale Arts box office: (480) 900-3263, or https://scottsdaleperformingarts.org/event/riders-of-the-purple-sage-the-making-of-a-western/
As part of its 2019-20 Main Stage Season, Arizona Opera will present the return of Riders of the Purple Sage at Symphony Hall in Phoenix from February 28 to March 1, and at Music Hall in Tucson on March 7 and 8. Information and tickets may be found at azopera.org
FILM TRAILER "Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera"
About Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West • Host
Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West features regularly changing exhibits of Western art and artifacts, entertaining events, and informative programs that bring our Western heritage to life. The museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate in 2015, and was named the 2018 Reader’s Choice “Best Western Museum” in the nation by True West magazine. For more information, visit .
Arizona Opera elevates the transformative power of storytelling through music, cultivating community and strengthening a people as diverse as the place they call home. The company's artistic history is rich with a blend of operas traditional repertoire featuring baroque, bel canto, and verismo works, turn-of-the-century masterpieces, operettas, and new works. Tickets are now on sale for the revival of “Riders of the Purple Sage” in early 2020. For more information, visit
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Phoenix in 1942. In the 1970’s, after going to art school in Los Angeles and working at an advertising agency in New York, Ed accepted a teaching position at the Hopi Reservation. Time spent on Arizona's Colorado Plateau reconnected Mell with the land he loved and his artistic course as a fine art painter was set. Ed’s canvases are collected around the world as iconic representations of the American West. For more information, visit