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Arizona Opera Announces First Ever World Premiere to be Held in Spring of 2017: Riders of the Purple Sage

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Based on the Best Selling Western Novel by Zane Grey

General Director Ryan Taylor has announced that Arizona Opera will present its first ever world premiere with a new production, Riders of the Purple Sage, in the spring of 2017, composed by Craig Bohmler and librettist Steven Mark Kohn.   Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Zane Grey, Riders is the first Western Opera written by an American living in the Western United States. With scenic design by world-renowned artist Ed Mell to evoke the sweeping vistas of the Southwestern landscape, this operatic retelling of the classic novel follows the dramatic story of the faithful Jane Withersteen and a mysterious gunfighter with a troubled past.  A Wild West adventure, this vivid story underscores the on-going conversations surrounding the right to bear arms, women's independence, land conservation and the delicate balance of an individual's deeply-held religious beliefs.


Billie Jo and Judd Herberger serve as Executive Producers for Riders of the Purple Sage.  Conductor Keitaro Harada will lead the music from the pit, with Stage Director Fenlon Lamb engaged to direct.  Cast includes Karin Wolverton and Laura Wilde sharing the role of Jane Withersteen, baritones Morgan Smith and Joshua Jeremiah as Lassiter, Joshua Dennis as Bern Venters, Amanda Opuszynski as Bess, Kris Irmiter as Bishop Dyer and Keith Phares as Elder Tull.


One hundred years after the initial publication of the 1912 novel, Bohmler was inspired by the story and began creating his composition and working with members of the Marion Roose Pullin Arizona Opera Studio to develop the piece.  His collaboration with Steven Mark Kohn led to a full commission by Arizona Opera as part of its new Arizona Bold Artistic Initiative, centered on presenting works relevant to the Arizona community.


"This work presents us with the opportunity to change the way audiences around the world think about opera.  Craig's piece is truly magnificent and brings the history, legends and landscape of the Southwest to brilliant life.  Riders is not only a tremendous adventure and touching love story: it also explores the many themes and conversations that arise from living in the West.  This first opera commissioned and premiered by Arizona Opera exemplifies Arizona Bold, our new artistic initiative which is dedicated to telling stories relevant to our communities and our region." - Ryan Taylor, Arizona Opera General Director


"After spending an afternoon in the Zane Grey Museum near Payson Arizona, I picked up a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage - one of the first American western novels ever written.  I quickly became immersed in the book, discovering an evocative and rhythmic story with characters who "sang" from the first page. I knew it was an amazing vehicle, which called for music with great scope.   Clearly this story has an energy all of its own.  The concept for creating an operatic retelling of this piece has attracted amazing collaborators including the incredible team at Arizona Opera, the amazing Arizona artist Ed Mell, as well as the Emmy Award-winning film-maker Kristin Atwell, who will be creating a documentary on the making of the piece." - Craig Bohmler, Composer


"Arizona artist Ed Mell, whose iconic landscapes of the Southwest have made him one of the foremost contemporary artists in the United States will create the scenic designs for the new production of Riders of The Purple Sage.  "The audience will experience Riders as if they are inside an Ed Mell painting, with his incredible interpretations of the Southwest landscape.  His canyons and mesas, his expressions of the desert skies... Ed has such a beautiful eye for the glorious colors of the Southwest and the interplay of darkness and light."  - Doug Provost, Arizona Opera Director of Production


The production is slated for the Spring of 2017 as part of the Arizona Opera's 2016/17 Season.


$100 reservations for tickets to the premiere of Riders of The Purple Sage can be made at  This $100 non-refundable reservation will be applied toward Riders of the Purple Sage ticket purchase when single tickets go on sale in August of 2016.  Riders of The Purple Sage will be part of the 2016/17 Season Package.  Season ticket holders will receive first priority, followed by Riders Reservation single ticket orders processed on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the reservation date. 


Those interested in receiving updates on the production or to learn how to support the development of Riders should visit



ARIZONA OPERA - Founded in 1971, Arizona Opera is the state's only professional opera company that produces fully-staged opera performances, in-school touring productions, as well as outreach programs to reach over 70,000 school-children and adults annually. Since its inception, Arizona Opera has produced over 180 fully-staged operatic masterpieces and concerts including Richard Wagner's complete Ring Cycle.  In 2014 the company embarked on a new artistic initiative, "Arizona Bold" which incorporates new repertoire into each season, works that celebrate the rich cultural fabric of the diverse state.  


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