Preview: Arizona Opera Set to World Premiere Western ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ in February 2017

By David Salazar

Cowboys, sunsets and the grandeur of the American western will grace Arizona Opera this February, when the company world premieres “Riders of the Purple Sage.”

Based on the classic novel by Zane Grey, the opera tells the story of the unconventional relationship between a devout Mormon and a vengeful cowboy. The work explores themes such as women’s rights, vigilante justice and religious fundamentalism among others.

The music is written by Olivier Award nominee and Phoenix native Craig Bohmler with a libretto by Steven Mark Kohn. The scenic design will feature the work of internationally recognized Ed Mell.

“It embodies the elements and atmosphere of the classic American West,” said Bohmler about the piece according to a press release. “The horses, the guns, the heroines, the bandits, the rustlers—all of the elements iconic to this eternally endearing genre are brought to life in a new way on the operatic stage.”

Bohmler’s score was inspired by the film scores of iconic Westerns and a desire to create a grand scale of Romantic Opera all in one.

The production, coming in the company’s 45th season, will be directed by Fenlon Lambon, who previously directed Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at AZO to strong reviews.

The opera’s cast includes Karin Wolverton and Laura Wilde, who will both split the role of Jane Withersteen, a deeply faithful Mormon. Wolverton has premiered roles in “Doubt” and :Silent Night” at the Minnesota Opera while Wilde is a recent graduate from the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

As the vengeful cowboy Lassiter is Morgan Smith who has appeared in such operas as Jake Heggie’s “Moby Dick” and “Dead Man Walking.” Joshua Jeremiah, who took on the title role in AZO’s “Rigoletto” will share the role with Smith.

There will also be a documentary based on the making of the opera to be produced and directed by Kristen Atwell Ford.

The world premiere takes place on February 26, 2017 at the Tuscon Music Hall. Three performances in March will be showcased at Symphony Hall in Phoenix.