Riders of the Purple Sage

Documentary film celebrates cowboy culture and opera’s hallowed traditions

A documentary about the artistry behind Arizona Opera’s new opera Riders of the Purple Sage celebrates its world premiere in Scottsdale on Feb. 5, 2020.

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 painter Ed Mell. In 2012 Bohmler discovered Zane Grey’s most famous novel when he ducked into the Zane Grey Cabin Museum in Payson, Ariz., 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.” 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 Grey’s work has been adapted for the live stage. “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,” says Joseph Specter, Arizona Opera president and general director.

Scottsdale’s Museum of the West presents the documentary during Western Week 2020, which culminates with Parada Del Sol. “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,” says Michael J. Fox, director and CEO.

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 premiere is hosted by Scottsdale’s Museum of the West with partners Quantum Leap Productions, Arizona Opera and Billie Jo and Judd Herberger, honorary chairs and executive producers. Sponsors include resort Castle Hot Springs. A limited amount of tickets are available to the public for $18 each. Proceeds from the evening will support the film’s global distribution.


Riders of the Purple Sage Film Premiere

Feb. 5, 2020, 7 p.m.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale

For more information, visit scottsdaleperformingarts.org.

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