Sunday, February 5, 2017


World Premiere Piece Based On Zane Grey's 
Classic Western Novel 


(Phoenix, Tucson, Ariz.) After years of development, the world premiere of 
Riders of the Purple Sage, a new opera based on Zane Grey's Western novel of the same name will be unveiled in Phoenix and Tucson.

Riders of the Purple Sage was composed by Craig Bohmler and features scenery designed by Arizona artist, Ed Mell, with libretto written by Steven Mark Kohn.  Billie Jo & Judd Herberger are Executive Producers.

Performances of Arizona Opera's Riders of the Purple Sage are February 25 at 7:30 pm and February 26 at 2:00 pm in Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., and March 3 and 4 at 7:30 pm and March 5 at 2:00 pm in Symphony Hall, 75 N. 2nd St., Phoenix.   This production of Riders of the Purple Sage is generously sponsored by
Arlyn and Rex Brewster and Frieda Elizabeth Reish.

Tickets start at $25 and are on sale at or by calling 602-266-7464 in Phoenix or 520-293-4336 in Tucson.

The idea for an operatic version of Riders of the Purple Sage came to composer
Craig Bohmler after stumbling upon Grey's historic cabin and museum during a hiking trip in Northern Arizona.  Bohmler subsequently read a copy of the classic novel, partnered with librettist Steven Mark Kohn, and shortly thereafter the pair presented their initial composition to Arizona Opera.  

Following several workshops and significant funding from Billie Jo and Judd Herberger, Arizona Opera commissioned the creation of the new opera, Riders of the Purple Sage.  Bohmler, who has composed numerous operas and musicals, developed a rich score, reminiscent of Hollywood westerns, with melodic themes to signal the central characters' motivations and actions.  The libretto by Steven Mark Kohn follows the main story line of the novel, set in the Utah territory circa 1870.

"Lukachukai Summer" by Ed Mell
Known as one of the most respected contemporary artists of Arizona, Ed Mell joined the project as Scenic Designer in the spring of 2013. As an artist, "The name Mell has become synonymous with the West, particularly the Southwestern landscape. Mell is no longer just the name of an artist but an adjective, describing a particular feeling or moment; a Mell sunset. The name Mell automatically conjures up images of distant mesas with glowing red clouds in a variety of shapes in the minds of those who understand his genius in capturing Mother Nature's most beautiful moments on canvas." - Dr. Mark Sublette, Western Art Collector Magazine

In 2016, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust funded state-of-the-art equipment to enable Arizona Opera's creative team to develop the visual world for Riders. This equipment allows for stunning, high-resolution backdrops of Mell's paintings to be combined with the hard scenic elements he designed (some of these backdrops are in excess of 28 feet tall).  As a result, Arizona Opera has produced an evocative, stunning environment in which the Riders of the Purple Sage story will unfold - set amidst Mell's interpretation of Arizona's striking mountains, vistas, canyons, and sunsets.

Zane Grey [1872-1939] is the best-selling Western author of all time. His work shaped perceptions of the American West and cemented the archetypes and myths of the Western genre. Grey was famously prolific, publishing nearly ninety books in print - sixty of which are Westerns - in over twenty languages. His novels and short stories have been directly adapted into 112 films, and indirectly influenced many more genre films.  Riders of the Purple Sage, published in 1912, is widely considered the first Western novel and remains Grey's best-selling work.  

Grey's fondness for the Grand Canyon State - he frequently referred to it as "my beloved Arizona" - inspired the settings and characters of many of his novels and so it is fitting that Arizona will present the world premiere presentation of the opera based on his most popular novel.

Riders of the Purple Sage features baritones Morgan Smith and Joshua Jeremiah alternating in the role of Lassiter, with sopranos Karin Wolverton and Laura Wilde performing the role of the heroine Jane Withersteen.  

Smith made his debut last season as Don Giovanni, and is known for his stellar performances in new opera works, most notably as "First Mate Starbuck" in Jake Heggie's new work, Moby Dick, which he performed in Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.  He alternates the role of Lassiter with Jeremiah, also known for his acclaimed performances of both new works and traditional roles.

Soprano Karin Wolverton last appeared as Micaëla in Carmen last season and has been described by Opera News as "a young soprano to watch".  Like Smith, she also is becoming known for her performances in new work, receiving great acclaim for the challenging role of Anna Sorenson in the Pulitzer Prize winning world premiere of Minnesota Opera's Silent Night. She shares the role of Jane Withersteen with Laura Wilde, who returns to Arizona Opera having started her career as a member of the Arizona Opera Marion Roose Pullin Opera Studio from 2011-2013.  Her career has since skyrocketed, with recent appearances at Lyric Opera of Chicago and English National Opera. 

The production will be directed by Fenlon Lamb (Last appearance - Arizona Opera's 
Rigoletto, 2014), with Joseph Mechavich conducting (Last appearance - Arizona Opera's Florencia en el Amazonas, 2015). 

In conjunction with the project, Emmy Award winning Producer Kristin Atwell Ford at Quantum Leap Productions is filming a documentary, Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera, to be released in early 2018.  The filmmaker has followed the project since its inception and is a co-producer for the production.

For information on the world premiere performances of Arizona Opera's Riders of the Purple Sage, including tickets, cast and creatives, behind the scenes videos and sound clips visit 

For more information on the Riders of the Purple Sage project visit,


Craig Bohmler, 
Steven Mark Kohn
Ed Mell
Scenic Design
Joseph Mechavich 
Fenlon Lamb 
Stage Director
Morgan Smith
(Feb 25Mar 3 & 5)
Joshua Jeremiah 
(Feb 26 & Mar 4)
Karin Wolverton 
 Jane Withersteen
(Feb 25Mar 3 & 5)
Laura Wilde 
 Jane Withersteen
(Feb 26 & Mar 4)
Joshua Dennis
Bern Venters
Amanda Opuszynski 
Kristopher Irmiter
Bishop Dyer

Keith Phares
Elder Tull
Hugo Vera
Kathleen Trott
Costume Designer
Greg Hirsch
Lighting Designer

Jacob Pinholster
Projection Designer

Kristin Atwell Ford

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