The Arizona Opera is about to launch a production based on an iconic Western novel — with help from legendary Arizona artist Ed Mell.
Now Grey's most popular work – a bestselling Western novel, already fives times a film – is being re-imagined by Arizona Opera to tell the 105-year-old story, Riders of the Purple Sage, all over again. How fitting that this Western opera should be a tale with issues that still ring true to this day – women's rights fundamentalist religion, funs, the search for home. Zane would have been proud.
From Sage to Stage, Part III. With a flash of his baton, the Arizona Opera conductor summons marvelous music from the orchestra pit: grand, rollicking, and indelibly Western, it rolls out across those seats and fills the hall with a sound that proclaims Riders of the Purple Sage – an American-born opera of the American West, which will premiere this month in Arizona in front of dyed-in-the-wool opera fans and curious newcomers – has found its home.
Nearly three years ago Arizona painter Ed Mell found himself listening to a proposition he had never heard before. Arizona Opera was reworking Zane Grey’s classic Western Riders of the Purple Sage, and they wanted the famous Arizona painter to create original backgrounds for the stage. Mell jumped on board immediately, and over the course of several years created original works for the stage production, as well as the poster image and a number of other pieces.
In just the first few pages of Zane Grey’s classic novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, fearless gunslingers and men on horseback tear through unforgiving mountains as emotions become as extreme as their surroundings: jealousy looms like a fatal precipice, and love ignites like a brushfire. It’s a fitting opening for a story where the land and its inhabitants are inextricably linked, where every action takes its cue from the rough terrain, the lush plant life that thrives in spite of challenges, the rhythms of horse hooves and the crashing of storms. It’s also a perfect beginning for an opera.
From Sage to Stage, Part II. The first musical moments of Riders of the Purple Sage charge out of the gate: lofty horns, pounding drums and a big, sprawling score that has you expecting The Magnificent Seven. Craig Bohmler, who composed the music for Arizona Opera's upcoming adaptation of the celebrated Zane Grey novel, says that's the idea.