Riders of the Purple Sage: Zane Grey's iconic Western novel, 5 films, 3 Western music bands, 1 country rock band, and now...an opera. How did that happen?

And then I saw Riders of the Purple Sage. There was something about that title – the color, the rhythm...
— Craig Bohmler, composer

The way composer Craig Bohmler tells it, the origin story of the Riders opera plays like a scene from a movie.

"My husband and I were up in Payson, on our way to a big hike outside of Strawberry. It was summer, and one of the Arizona monsoons came upon us while we were sitting at a light – an absolute deluge. At this light, there was a sign pointing toward the Zane Grey Museum – a sign I've driven past more times than I could count over the past 25 years. But it was pouring and it seemed like a great place to wait out the storm if we had any hope of hiking. 

I love Westerns – what boy growing up in my era didn't love Westerns? I walked into the museum and saw all these posters of my favorite Westerns. It turned out Zane Grey had written many of the stories! I came home and looked him up on my Kindle and dozens of titles popped up. Desert Gold, Desert Wheat, Captives of the Desert, Heritage of the Desert – there was a lot of desert.

And then I saw Riders of the Purple Sage. Something about that title – the color, the rhythm – really got my attention, so I started reading it, just as a follow-up to our museum visit.

I wasn't five pages in before I thought, 'Well, that's a very operatic opening.' It was like Of Mice and Men – violent, interesting. And then twenty pages in, I thought, 'This reads like an opera plot.' Fifty pages in, I thought, 'If Verdi were alive, this is the kind of story he'd set to music.' This story just bit me.

When I started writing in 2012, it was the centennial of both Arizona's statehood and the book's publication. It all just seemed to unfold. And just think – had we been at the next stoplight when the rain hit, we would've waited out the storm in the Chinese restaurant!"